Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Ryuutama: Ashes to Ashes, Day 3

This is the continuing chronicle of my unorthodox solo Ryuutama game. The previous posts are PreparationDay 1, and Day 2.

  • I play Clover Hartfeld, a Technical-type Hunter. She's on a journey to take her brother's ashes home from the town of Polem to Feruto.

In the morning I awoke feeling completely refreshed. Yesterday's fog had lifted, but thick clouds shadowed the desolate plains. However, I knew that if I travelled well today I would make it home, so I set my resolve and began what would hopefully be the last leg of my solemn journey.

Today I rolled randomly for the weather and got Cloudy. As with the previous day, the topography is Wasteland, so my general target for travel checks will be 6. Even with my +1 from yesterday's Critical Camping check, Clover's condition today only came to 6.

Since there's only a little of the journey to go, and my MP was fully restored, I opted to Concentrate on the Movement/Travelling check and got a total of 15!

Halfway through the day I came across the tracks of some small monster. I decided to track it down rather than waiting for it to ambush me, and soon I spied two puppet-like Evil Souls from a vantage point on a low rock shelf. I leapt to the attack, skewering one in a single blow before it could react! I deftly dodged the second one's jerky attack and effortlessly pinned it to the dirt with my spear. The creatures' bodies dissolved into gas and blew away, leaving nothing behind. I was simultaneously relieved that it hadn't been something more dangerous, and disappointed that I was unable to collect any materials.

I wanted to run a simple combat encounter today, but didn't want to overwhelm my poor lone character. I initially decided to randomly choose a single Level 1 monster, since I had a single Level 1 character, but it quickly became apparent that it was no match for her so I threw in a second one to give them a bit more of a chance.

With a couple of decent rolls (plus Accuracy bonuses from using the objects in the landscape, and Damage bonuses from having used my tracking skill on them), they went down in one hit each. Initiative is used as your passive defence in combat as well as deciding action order, so it didn't hurt that I had an Initiative of 12 (2d6+1). With 2d4 Accuracy the poor little things had to roll a Critical (double 4) to hit me; actually, the rules as written don't say that a Critical is an automatic hit, either.

If I had been hit, the Evil Souls' attacks would have inflicted [Tired: 6] on me. This normally reduces Spirit by one die type, but since my Spirit is only d4 it's not allowed to get any lower.

I headed off again, eager to finish my journey. As the sun began to set behind the clouds, I spied the rooftops of Feruto. I was home.

I broke the sad news to our parents, and delivered Taragon's ashes to our family shrine. My parents were saddened to hear of their son's demise, but were relieved that I had returned safely despite the difficulty and danger of travelling alone. The village gathered a feast to welcome me home, but it was a melancholy meal. There were many toasts and tales of Taragon's bravery.

That night, I was grateful to sleep in a soft bed in the safety of my home.

That's it! Journey's over. I made it home in one piece.

Level Up

Clover gained 210 XP for this journey; 200 because of the Difficulty 10 Forest on day one, and 10 for defeating a Level 1 monster. She goes up to Level 2 and gains a stat increase. I'm torn between putting up Dex (to d8) or Spirit (to d6). I'll probably go for Spirit, just so she doesn't have any obvious weaknesses.

I get 3 points to divide between HP and MP. Since Clover's not a Magic Type (and will probably add Attack Type once she gets a secondary Type), I'll put all 3 into HP for a total of 19. Her Carry also goes up by 1, to 15.


I know I've missed out on a bunch of stuff by not playing in a group. The purpose of my test was to get a feel for the basic travel and combat rules, and see how the system "feels" in play. I'm sure it will be different with more players generating the world as a group, developing friendships between their characters, and overcoming hardships together.

The mechanics by themselves are simple and cute, and create a feeling that jibes with the feelgood, dinky atmosphere the game's attempting to create.

Looking purely from a mechanical point of view, the Movement, Direction and Camping checks are all simple pass/fail. This means that more difficult Topography makes it more likely you'll fail, but don't increase the severity of the failure. There isn't much difference for a starting character between a sunny Forest (10) and a Mountaintop during a Blizzard (19), but as proficiency increases it becomes more likely that you might succeed at more difficult checks.

On the other hand, the chance of a Critical (maximum or 6 on all dice) or a Fumble (1 on all dice) depend entirely on the character's stats and are not at all affected by Topography. It's equally likely for a character to Critically succeed (or Fumble) on a travel check in Grassland (6) as in a Jungle during a Storm (17).

The rules don't actually say if a Critical always counts as a Success, or if it's possible to roll a Critical while still Failing against the target (rolling, say, a double 6 on 2d6 against a target of 14). I kind of assume that a Critical always succeeds.

Anyway, those are only general observations about the system, neither here nor there. I think with a full party, the ups and downs will create an interesting orchestra of little successes and failures from a chorus of simple yes/no inputs.

Having completed this short "scout ahead" I feel more confident about running a game for a group. I would still like to read some example scenarios to get an idea for what might go on besides travel and the occasional combat. I guess simple social encounters, quests, problems, local obstacles to overcome (flash floods, landslides, fallen trees, bridges out), "set-piece" landscape features and the like would help to add variety and spice things up. I should also read through the bestiary and get some more ideas about where and how to use monsters in the game.

I hope you enjoyed my brief sojourn. When I run a full game, I'll be sure to post the Actual Plays (or transcripts from our Diary Keeper).

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Ryuutama: Ashes to Ashes, Day 2

This is the continuing chronicle of my unorthodox solo Ryuutama game. The two previous posts are Preparation and Day 1.

  • I play Clover Hartfeld, a Technical-type Hunter. She's on a journey to take her brother's ashes home from the town of Polem to Feruto.

In the morning I was weary and stiff, but relieved to emerge from the forest onto the flat, open wastelands. Fog covered the ground, so soon I was alone in my own little world - a slowly shifting circle of desolate rock and scrubby bushes with me at the centre. The fog ate the sound of my boots crunching over the gravel, but I was grateful for the easy travel and the solitude.

I got an 8 for Condition again, but same as yesterday it didn't have any meaningful impact on the journey.

Wasteland plus Fog has a total Topography target of 7, which is a bit more achievable on two dice than the 10 for Forest. My Travel roll was an 11 including the bonus for Climbing Shoes, so no problems there!

I rolled randomly to see if Clover would run into any monsters, but nothing showed up. I think tomorrow I'll stage a simple encounter just so I can test out the combat system.

Since I couldn't see very far around me, I focussed extra hard on making sure I was headed in the right direction. By the end of the day, as the fog cleared, I was pleased to see I was right on track and only one day's walk from Feruto.

I didn't want to fail the Direction roll and add an extra day to the journey, so I Concentrated on the roll and got a total of 14! A little over the top, but better safe than sorry.

Relieved at the relative ease of today's travel, I set up camp in a comfortable bowl of sand sheltered by an overhanging rock. The manageable effort of today's travel had eased away my stresses, and I settled down for one of the best night's sleep I've had in ages.

I rolled a Critical success on the Camping check for a total of 13 (including Shoe bonus)! After losing half her HP and most of her MP the day before, Clover's had both fully restored and gained a +1 bonus on tomorrow's Condition roll!

Okay, so tomorrow it's one more day of travel across Wastelands to reach her goal, plus I'll put an encounter in her way too. I was a bit worried that she might fall easily in combat if attacked when her HP and MP were low, but today's Camping check has removed that concern - as long as I don't fail the Travel check tomorrow!

>>> Day 3

Monday, 27 January 2014

Ryuutama: Ashes to Ashes, Day 1

I'm running a solo game of Ryuutama for myself, just to test the rules out before I run a game for real. It's usually meant to be played with a small group, so my poor character is in for a hard time. In the previous post, I created my character and got equipped for the journey.

  • I play Clover Hartfeld, a Technical-type Hunter. She's on a journey to take her brother's ashes home from the town of Polem to Feruto.

The morning of my departure was clear and still, and I awoke in good condition to set out. I had the daunting choice of heading straight through the formidable forest, or adding an extra day to my journey by walking around. I decided to press straight through the forest, even though it had claimed my brother Taragon's life. Perhaps I needed to prove to myself that I could overcome it, for his memory.

The first roll of the day is for Condition, to see how hale and hearty you are feeling. I got a decent 8; it didn't really affect the rest of my day, though, since it's mainly used to resist status effects.

I've come up with a random map, but didn't bother rolling for weather on day one as I haven't finalised the random weather table yet. I also haven't set up a random encounter system yet, plus I figured the big bad forest was probably enough obstacle to overcome for now.

I set my resolve and trekked alone into the dark forest. Walking around the massive trees, pushing through the thick undergrowth, and climbing over moss-strewn logs made for an arduous journey. It really took it out of me, I must admit, but I had no choice but to press on.

Forests are Level 3 Topography, so I needed a 10 on two dice (d8+d6 or d6+d6) to succeed without some drawback. Since the forest was such a challenge, I Concentrated on every travelling roll to gain a +2 bonus (normally +1, but I get an extra +1 for my Technical type. Still, I failed the Travel roll, and lost half my HP.

By the end of the day, I was almost through the forest. Despite the disorienting environment, I managed to not get lost and was true to my course! This was a small victory, but I was too exhausted to celebrate much. I threw together my camp and settled down for an uncomfortable night.

I just managed to scrape in a success on the Direction check. If I'd failed, I would have only made it halfway through the Forest and would have had to roll against the same difficulty to get out the next day. Luckily, Clover now has just two days' walk across relatively easy Wastelands to reach her destination.

Unfortunately I didn't make the Camping check, so overnight Clover only recovers 2 HP and MP. She's now at 10/16 HP and 3/8 MP. Since Concentration takes half your MP, she'll only be able to Concentrate twice tomorrow.

Tomorrow I'll roll and see if any weather influences the journey, and I'll do something about figuring out how to decide random monster encounters. The scenario guidelines suggest maybe including a fight on day 2 or 3, so it looks like basically a 33% chance of an encounter each day. If I go by the hunting rules, though, it's actually harder to find food in more difficult terrain - which includes Forests and Jungles, where I'd normally expect to find a lot of wildlife. I'm not sure if I should just have a flat per-day encounter chance, or weight it for different terrain. I suppose though, more dangerous monsters are likely to live in very difficult terrain, so things might balance out with a flat chance.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Ryuutama: Ashes to Ashes, Preparation

I put in for the Ryuutama Kickstarter last year. Although I'm not expecting a finished PDF or book until later this year, the backers did receive a Christmas present in the form of a pre-release rough draft of the rules.

It's a heartwarming game of travel and wonder, where ordinary people set off on difficult and fantastic journeys. Rather than focussing on combat, the emphasis is on the journey itself. The environment can be your worst enemy, and a bad meal or an uncomfortable night's sleep might do you more harm than an encounter with wild beasts!

I'd like my fiancée to play, but she's going to be super-busy with work for the next few weeks. I figured in the meantime I might get a better feel for the system by playing through a solo journey. Since Ryuutama focusses on ordinary townsfolk travelling overland in difficult and dangerous terrain with the ever-present threat of monsters, people usually travel in groups. For my test, I'm going to play a solo character on a lonely journey. I don't expect it to go well, but I'll follow her along and just see what happens.

Since I'm effectively the GM and the player, I've made up a random terrain chart and put together a small map to explore in "hexcrawl" style. I put a couple of settlements at hex intersections, Settlers of Catan style, so there are three ways to approach or leave a town. I may also come up with a random encounter system, so I can impartially see if I run into any monsters.

Since the GM character, the Ryuujin, gets hardly any ability to influence the journey until it's overseen at least one trip, I'm not going to bother making a fully detailed Ryuujin. By default, it'll be a Green Ryuujin with an Encyclopedia, meaning it's a game about travel and I'll be running it "by the book".

I figured a Hunter/Technical type character might be fairly self-sufficient. Hopefully the ability to track monsters and turn them into food will increase survivability. The well-travelled Minstrel class does get a bonus to all Travel checks, so maybe they would be a better choice for a single-player game, but oh well. I'll see how we go.

  • I play Clover Hartfeld, a female Technical Hunter who wields a boar spear.

I went for a stat spread of Str d8, Dex d6, Int d6, Spi d4. This gives her 16 HP and 8 MP.

From her Hunter Class, she gains the ability to track monsters and inflict +1 damage on monsters thus tracked; she can turn defeated monsters into materials such as food and gear; and she can hunt small creatures when camping to increase rations. Unfortunately, this last skill is in lieu of the nightly Camp Check, so she won't really be able to use it when travelling solo.

Thanks to her Technical Type, she has Initiative of 2d6+1, a Carrying Capacity of 14, and gains a +2 bonus on Concentration checks instead of +1.

Clover was hunting in the forest near the town of Polem with her older and more experienced brother, Taragon. Unfortunately, Taragon was seriously injured in a hunting accident, and they only just made it back to Polem before he succumbed to his injuries and died.

Alone in a foreign town, Clover now has the solemn task of taking her brother's ashes home to Feruto. It's a three day journey if she goes by the most direct route, although that will involve passing through the dangerous forest. If she goes around, it'll add another day to the trip.

I opted to browse the full shopping lists rather than the lighter "Picnic" rules. Since a waterskin only holds a day's water, and there's no rules for refilling it on the way (I guess the GM could place rivers or streams along the way, and rain might give a refill opportunity), the trickiest part of solo travel is making sure you have enough water. Normally a party would have a 15-day barrel of water, but Clover can't carry one by herself and can't afford a pack animal.

Her equipment is as follows. 'g' is for Gold and 's' is for Size. Size numbers in square brackets are the Size of equipped or stowed items; such items count as Size 0.

  • Boar Spear (0g, [3s]) - Chosen as her trained weapon.
  • Traveller's clothes (50g, [3s])
  • Uncool Normal Hat (96g, [1s])
  • Gross Smelly Raincoat (224g, [3s]) - Oiled with animal grease for a funky smell. The mantle is made of sticky fur.
  • Uncool Smelly Climbing Boots (252g, [1s]) - Questionably made out of an unknown creature's hide. Has big claws on the toes.
  • Large Backpack (40g, 5s) - Holds 10s of gear.
    • Sleeping Bag (50g, [1s])
    • Wooden Utensils (10g, [1s ea.])
    • Rations x 4 (10g ea., [1s ea.])
    • Waterskins x 4 (30g ea., [1s ea.])
  • Firestarter Set (20g, 1s)
  • Used Tent (96g, 3s) - Her brother's old battered tent (Durability 2).
Total cost is 998g (leaving her 2g spare), and total Size is 9 out of her Carrying Capacity of 14.

Her personal item is the urn containing Taragon's ashes.

Well, I think she's about all ready to start her journey! Next time I'll post an Actual Play of her first day's travel. Wish me luck!

>>> Day 1

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Pit - Part One

I always find it really hard to kick off a game of Apocalypse World. I don't know if it's because I need to ask more questions and establish the world better before I start following people around, or if it's because everybody I've ever started a game for has been new to the game and isn't yet on board with what to expect and how to contribute. Whatever it is, there's always a moment where I feel my brain-gears seizing up and I don't know how to start things off.

I can probably do better on the first front, I admit. I did ask the Hardholder lots of questions about how his hold was set up; as I've come to expect, he described pretty favourable conditions. That's cool, though - people make settlements in the best spots they can, and being in a favourable position just makes other people envious of what you have, inviting trouble later. But I forgot to ask what the weather was like, and didn't manage to establish any particular weirdness in the landscape or legacies of the apocalypse.

This time around, we had a Hardholder, a Gunlugger, and a Battlebabe. While I'm fairly conversant at presenting external threats that invite violence, such as raiders and enemy holdings, one of these days I'd like to MC a game where combat is a dangerous exercise and we can drill down into the heart of the community. To do so, I might need to take the Gunlugger, Brainer, and Battlebabe off the table. New players often seem to gravitate towards them because they offer raw mechanical power without the social connections and responsibilities of most other Playbooks.

  • Geoff plays Fluffy, a male Gunlugger wearing battered carbon-fibre armour. He has a worn face with wise eyes and a stringy body.
  • +Michael plays Maxine, a female Battlebabe with a leather trenchcoat over a suit of metal armour. She is blonde with frosty eyes, a striking face, and a muscular body.
  • +Sasha plays Barbeque, a male Hardholder wearing a suit from the before-time. He has a stern face, commanding eyes, and a wiry body.

Geoff was a last-minute addition as one of the expected group was unable to make it, so unfortunately I hadn't had an opportunity to introduce him to any of the concepts or expectations.

After setting up the group's History with each other, Maxine didn't trust Barbeque but had been with him for a long time and was currently working as one of his lieutenants. Fluffy had betrayed or stolen something from Barbeque long ago, and Barbeque had left him in the wilderness to die. Fluffy just thought Maxine was pretty. I know Apocalypse World says the PCs don't have to be friends but they shouldn't start off as enemies, but well... that's a hell of a history between Fluffy and Barbeque that's an awful lot to overcome.

Barbeque managed a full success on his Wealth roll, so I didn't even have any community-generated problems to kick things off with - and believe me, there are plenty to choose from: disease, hunger, famine, and savagery.

In previous games I've tended to fall back on "inflict harm" as the response to failed Moves, so as a personal challenge I'm going to do my best to avoid that and use other options. I'm sure there'll be plenty of Harm flying around anyway.

So nobody really likes Barbeque, but he's running the town known as The Pit. It's a large and heavily fortified settlement in a sheltered valley, with fields to the North and wastelands to the South.

Fluffy doesn't live in The Pit. He's just passing through, looking to trade, get laid, and re-stock his supplies before heading out into the hills to fend for himself again. He doesn't even know Barbeque's in charge until he runs into Maxine in the marketplace. Maxine heads off to report Fluffy's arrival to Barbeque, while Fluffy looks at finding himself a little comfort in exchange for a little jingle.

Barbeque's HQ is underneath a church, in a fortified basement accessible by a little-known and circuitous route. He's angry at Maxine for letting Fluffy know it's his town, and sends a guy to keep an eye on the Gunlugger. He also puts together a posse of scouts to head South and keep an eye out for trouble. However, before they can head out, a sentry runs up to announce raiders are coming! Barbeque orders the church bell rung to sound the alarm.

Fluffy's tumbling with a girl when the bell starts ringing. He grabs his stuff to leave, promising to return and pay later. When the girl draws a gun on him and demands payment now, Fluffy shoots her dead with his magnum. Outside, he follows the crowd towards the walls and joins up with Maxine. The raiders are avoiding the city and sweeping around towards the fields. Although Barbeque's orders are to stop them from bothering the town, Maxine leads the gang out to chase them down before they can hit the farms.

They take out the rear half of the raiders; Fluffy falls off the back of the buggy, but manages to acquire one of the raiders' bikes. He races ahead after the rest of the raiders while Barbeque's savage gangers start hunting down the ragged survivors of the first lot. Maxine tries to get them to follow Fluffy, but one of the men challenges her authority. She puts her magnum in his face and threatens to blow his brains out; he agrees to continue the pursuit and come back for trophies later.

I could have gone harder here, since Maxine completely failed her roll to Manipulate the gang. Most of them ignored her except the guy who challenged her authority, and he foolishly walked right into position for a Go Aggro move. Reviewing the MC Moves now, though, I don't think there was much else I could have done without having the gang attack her, which seems a bit much.

Meanwhile, Fluffy rips into the second half of the raiders, decimating the outriders and impressing the survivors. The remaining raiders pull up and parley. Fluffy agrees to let them go if they "pay" him in weapons or barter. They throw him one of their pistols and drive off over the hills. Maxine and the rest of the gang turn up just in time to see them go. The gang wants to hunt them down, but Maxine talks them into going back and looting. The gang is really starting to sour on her leadership, but they cooperate for now.

Barbeque's waiting at the town gate. He and Fluffy meet face to face and have a heated discussion where sparks fly as their past causes friction. Fluffy is trying to be reasonable, but sorely wants to go for his gun despite the gang arrayed against him. Barbeque doesn't want to let Fluffy into the town, but eventually relents and offers him a week's quality accommodation as thanks for his assistance against the raiders.

Fluffy visits the evening market and offloads some goods before retiring to his new quarters. Barbeque makes sure he has someone keeping an eye on Fluffy at all times.

As I mentioned earlier, Geoff hadn't had a chance for a proper briefing on expectations of play. We discussed the Fluffy-Barbeque situation, and I said I wouldn't be surprised if it came to violence one way or another. The game does rub the characters against each other, and those two were primed from the beginning. PVP is OK as long as everyone's aware it's on the table, and sees the game as being more about experiencing drama than "playing to win". Basically, playing to see what happens to their character (good or ill) instead of considering their character to be inviolate and always sticking with the group no matter what. Apocalypse World is a game of interpersonal drama where stuff can blow up in your face. Sometimes relationships become untenable.

We also spent a little time talking about the shape of the world, since we hadn't touched on any weirdness apart from the collapse of civilisation. Since I'm a little tired of nuclear apocalypses, I've taken a couple of other interesting ideas - maybe the apocalypse was a natural disaster, such as a collision with an asteroid, and that for some reason all of the water is contaminated and must be filtered before it can be safely drunk.

So, I have a few ideas to take away and turn into Fronts for next session. Hopefully with a few ideas worked up, next session will flow a little better.

>>> To be continued

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Rippers: Chapter 4

Since everyone's on holidays at the moment, we got together for an extended Rippers session. It ended up going for eight hours, with about a one hour break for dinner; the Actual Play is fairly long because it's effectively two sessions' worth of stuff, and we spent a good deal of time discussing and executing plans and conducting investigations so big combat scenes didn't really feature this time around.
  • +Annette plays Gregory Pratchett, an alienist with a gift for physically battling the forces of darkness. His encounter with a werewolf led to the Rippers showing an interest in his talents.
  • +Michael plays William Baker, a Professor of Archaeology who uses knowledge as a weapon. On his expeditions across Europe he began uncovering signs of the occult. In Eastern Europe, one of his parties was all but wiped out by a vampire. He was kicked out of Cambridge for publicly airing his views on the supernatural, losing his tenure and his marriage. The Rippers recruited him shortly afterwards.
  • James plays Douglas, a mysterious cloaked gadgeteer with a modified crossbow.
    Last time, Pratchett and Baker were unable to prevent the theft of a canopic jar from an exhibit at the British Museum. Baker was certain that it contained the heart of a rare Mesopotamian mummy.

    Baker and Pratchett debrief their superiors at Ripper HQ, and also reunite with Douglas. They return to the scene of the crime and try to track the thief, but find only a small black cat statue. Baker uses his shady contacts to learn it's the calling card of the cat burglar known as Black Cat.

    On Douglas' suggestion, they set up a "job" for Black Cat to steal an Egyptian cat statue from the Rippers Lodge. It's early morning, so they have to wait until that night to spring the trap and question him about the whereabouts of the stolen canopic jar.

    On his way home to sleep, Pratchett is set upon by two assassins with swords who scream "Die in the name of Imhotep!" Surprised, overwhelmed, and badly injured, Pratchett makes it inside his office and bolts the door; the assassins are forced to flee as people begin to emerge onto the street. Pratchett returns to Rippers HQ by hansom cab to seek medical attention, and everyone sleeps at the Lodge until evening.

    Late that night the Rippers lure Black Cat into a secure room and capture the burglar after a brief skirmish. Unmasked, they discover that Black Cat is a woman! Upon questioning her, they learn that the stolen canopic jar has been delivered to Lord Julian Maybrick, an occasional Rippers sponsor, friend of Johann Van Helsing, and collector of Egyptian artefacts (and the man whose party the PCs crashed in the Prologue). Black Cat only agreed to tell them this because they promised not to reveal their source, and Pratchett agreed to pay the rest of her fee for the fake job and let her go.

    Led by Van Helsing, the group calls upon Maybrick's town house only to discover he has departed for his country estate earlier that evening.

    Having missed the last train, Pratchett, Baker and Douglas travel to Maybrick's estate via carriage, arriving in the morning. Pratchett and Baker meet Maybrick and suggest he may be in possession of the jar, perhaps to protect it. He takes umbrage and orders them to leave. Meanwhile Douglas strolls in the back of the house, but doesn't find anything before being accosted by servants and escorted off the property.

    Douglas jumps the wall and the group meets up again. The groundskeeper releases his dogs, and the Rippers climb a tree. Pratchett reveals his ability to empathise and communicate with dogs, and persuades them to leave - although the group remains in the tree to avoid the groundskeeper.

    Some time in the afternoon, they see a carriage arrive with several lackeys and one gentleman in a top hat. The new arrivals are met at the front door by Maybrick and his butler, and are escorted inside. One of the lackeys drives the carriage around to the back of the house.

    They climb down and circle around the mansion, but run into some of the dogs and the groundsman. They try to persuade him they are supposed to be there, but he tries to escort them to the main house "for their own safety." Douglas shoots him in the back, and is badly mauled by the dogs until Pratchett manages to call them off again.

    They drag the unconscious groundsman towards the carriage. Pratchett recognises the lackey guarding it as one of the assassins from yesterday morning. He steps out and stabs the man before the thug can draw his weapon. They try to stuff the body into the carriage's trunk, but discover it's already occupied by two active Mummies. They slay one, and set fire to the carriage which burns the second one. As the fire takes off, they retreat into the cover of the garden.

    To prepare for this session, I spent maybe an hour or two writing notes and mulling over the existing situation. With several elements already in play, I drew a relationship map showing who was doing what with whom. I then came up with a couple of timelines - lists of sequential events that would happen if the NPCs' plans went ahead unopposed. Once the PCs start to interfere, I just need to adjust the plans and maybe rework the timelines to reflect the changed circumstances.

    All of my prep for this seven hour session (and probably for the next session as well) fit on one piece of paper, although I also used another sheet with some NPC and monster stats. Here's a scan, although I've obscured the details since I don't want to reveal some of the connections to my players yet!

    Relationship diagrams help me get a better feel for how things look from various points of view. A lot of this planning style is influenced by Apocalypse World which uses Fronts (sources of trouble) and Countdown Clocks (essentially, a list of what will happen if nobody interferes). Speaking of which, I have a three-player Apocalypse World game lined up later in the week with two of my three Rippers and one of the Pathfinder guys.

    >>> To be continued...

    Friday, 17 January 2014

    Pathfinder: Session 2

    Since it's holiday time, we've been getting in a few more sessions than usual. After an eight hour Rippers marathon the day before, we got together for four or five hours of Pathfinder.
    • +Annette plays Aliella Glorygem, a Dwarven Wizard (Evoker).
    • James plays Elerith, an Elven Cleric of Desna and the only Good-aligned member of the group (everyone else is some form of Neutral).
    • Maddi plays Constance, an Elven Rogue.
    • Sasha plays Asmira Mothwing, a Human Fighter with scale armour, a shield, a rapier, and a massive Dex bonus.
    • I play Durga the Thunderbolt, a Human Barbarian with a two-handed sword and studded leather armour for swift movement.

    Previously, we entered a network of caves and fought many goblins, while searching for the mysterious creature known only as Black Fang.

    We awoke refreshed and advanced on Black Fang's lair. After climbing up a ledge, we fought and defeated four foul animated skeletons. Pressing on, we entered a large cavern with a hole in the roof. Asmira and I pushed forward. Rounding a wall of rock, I spied a pile of treasure - and at that moment, a small Black Dragon descended through the hole to land upon it!

    Before I could react, it had shot its acid breath at me and charged to attack! I drew the Dragonbane longsword and fought back as the others joined the fray. While it took its toll with tooth and claw, our blades and magic were more than its equal. After a mighty blow from my Dragonbane and a grievous thrust from Constance's rapier, the beast took to the skies and fled.

    We returned to town to resupply, planning to head back and stake out the lair in case Black Fang returned. However, the mayor was satisfied that the beast was driven off and we received our reward.

    After completing our first "dungeon" the GM informed us that, since our group had worked together so well, we decided to form an adventuring company and offer our services for hire. However, it was a few weeks before we were approached with a task.

    I did raise an eyebrow when we were told what our characters were doing, but I am cutting the GM some slack as he's running a module-based introduction that will lead into a full campaign. At the moment the focus of the game is on the dungeons, so the GM exercising editorial control to make sure we get to the right place is understandable. At least telling us how things need to be is preferable to giving us the illusion of choice and then blocking our moves until we end up where he wants us anyway. I'm hopeful that we'll be able to make more meaningful decisions about campaign direction once the game proper begins.

    A few weeks after dealing with Black Fang, the mayor approached us with a job. A pair of Dwarves had asked for the rights to an abandoned mine near Sandpoint. The town agreed, but the Dwarves had not been heard from since. We were to find out if they had run into trouble or if they were mining gold without paying their dues to the town.

    The mine tunnel led to a crossroad. There were signs of a fight with giant spiders. Tracks had gone West and North and returned, but had then gone East and not returned. Aliella cast an Alarm spell upon the crossroad, and we headed off to explore each tunnel in turn.

    To the West was a 15-foot deep sink-hole with a chest on the far side. Constance leapt across and recovered some treasure, but hurt herself trying to leap back.

    To the North was a cave-in and signs of webs. We were attacked by two man-sized spiders, but eventually slew them and found a small amount of treasure.

    To the East we found an injured Dwarf. He said that he and his brother had been attacked by a rock monster, and implored us to find his missing kin. We found him a short way along the tunnel, but as Asmira advanced to fetch him an Earth Elemental burst out of the rubble and attacked us! Elerith evacuated the Dwarf as battle was met, and we destroyed the fiend after a gruelling battle. Fortunately, none of our number fell in combat.

    We escorted the Dwarves back to town and collected our well-earned reward.

    The game was enjoyable; once more, the focus was on exploring and overcoming the challenges presented in the dungeon environment, and barely any play has taken place back in town or even in the wilderness. The modular dungeons have offered a variety of problems to deal with, so there's generally something for everyone to get involved with.

    After two dungeons, we're two-thirds of the way to second level. It's starting to seem like a bit of a hike, since I'm straining to get my Attack Bonus higher and hit more often. Like many games, Pathfinder tends to have many rolls where effectively nothing happens - missed attacks, failed checks that don't progress the situation. I gave the group an overview of Apocalypse World where every roll has a consequence apart from lost time, and I'm hoping to run a game of that for them some time soonish.

    Speaking of XP, there was one situation that irked me a little, although it's nothing major and certainly didn't spoil the game. The GM was showing off his nifty experience point spreadsheet, and happened to mention that we'd missed out on some bonus experience in Black Fang's lair because we hadn't accepted the quest from the goblin chief to retrieve his toy dragon. He said he wanted to reward us for negotiating rather than fighting the goblins. He wanted to encourage us to make the "right" choice, but since we were unaware of the incentive it was pretty ineffective.

    The overwhelming majority of the party is Neutral or Chaotic Neutral, we have a Dwarf who has a racial hatred of goblinoids, and my character was leery about leaving the goblin threat behind us. Negotiating and honouring an agreement with the goblins is a Lawful and possibly Good act, so we went unrewarded for playing to our alignments. The only Lawful Good member of the party did try to get us to negotiate, but she was outvoted.

    Personally I think it would be better if expectations and rewards were discussed ahead of time so everyone knows where they stand. These days I prefer to discuss the way a particular game will run before I actually start running it. At the moment with Pathfinder it's just the one minor thing, but I thought it was worth discussing because I'd rather not see it become a trend.

    In any case, I'm enjoying the game and looking forward to next session.

    >>> To be continued...

    Tuesday, 14 January 2014

    Ghouls for Savage Worlds

    Reading through the Rippers bestiary, I was disappointed to find no Ghouls - so I made my own.

    Since reading up a little on Persian mythology many years ago, I've always been quite partial to the Arabic ghul - not an undead, but an inhuman creature that feeds on the dead; that cannot starve to death but becomes increasingly emaciated; that has broad soft feet that don't leave footprints on sand; that can imitate a human; and that can turn invisible when standing still.

    My Ghouls come in three versions - Sated, Hungry, and Starving. Sated Ghouls are tougher, but the hungrier they get the faster and more vicious they become. They excel as ambush predators, often waiting underground or simply invisible in plain sight until their prey moves within reach.


    Split attributes are for Sated/Hungry/Starving Ghouls.

    Attributes: Agility d6/d8/d10, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d10, Vigor d8
    Skills: Fighting d6/d8/d10, Stealth d10+2, Notice d8/d8+1/d8+2
    Parry 5/6/7, Toughness 8/7/6, Pace 6+d6/8+d6/10+d8

    Special Abilities

    • Burrowing (4): Able to dig rapidly through dirt, sand, mud, and clay. Ambush (Stealth vs Notice) for +2 Attack and Damage (+4 on a Raise).
    • Darksight: No vision penalty from darkness.
    • Fade: In a turn where it takes no actions (including reactive or free actions), the Ghoul can choose to turn invisible, fading into the surrounding scenery. -4 to Notice and subsequent attacks - but if attacked the Ghoul must move to defend itself and therefore becomes immediately visible.
    • False Visage: The Ghoul can pull its face into the semblance of a human face, and imitate a human gait, but it will not stand up to close inspection; Notice at +2 will reveal its inhuman nature.
    • Grasping Teeth: Str+d6 Damage.
    • Rubbery Hide: Armour +2/+1/0 (calculated into Toughness).
    • Sand Feet: Stealth +2. No Pace penalty on soft sand, thick mud, or snow.

    Monday, 13 January 2014

    Rippers: Chapters 1 to 3

    We held a second Rippers session in November or December, and managed to fit in another couple of sessions around the New Year period. James turned up for session two (Chapter 1), but unfortunately couldn't make it to either of the subsequent games. Undaunted, Pratchett and Baker pressed on against the forces of darkness.
    • +Annette plays Gregory Pratchett, an alienist with a gift for physically battling the forces of darkness. His encounter with a werewolf led to the Rippers showing an interest in his talents.
    • +Michael plays William Baker, a Professor of Archaeology who uses knowledge as a weapon. On his expeditions across Europe he began uncovering signs of the occult. In Eastern Europe, one of his parties was all but wiped out by a vampire. He was kicked out of Cambridge for publicly airing his views on the supernatural, losing his tenure and his marriage. The Rippers recruited him shortly afterwards.
    • James plays Douglas, a mysterious cloaked gadgeteer with a modified crossbow.

    Chapter 1

    Pratchett and Baker were placed under the administration of the bureaucratic Tristifer Shackleworth, and teamed up with the mysterious Douglas. Given the option of searching for the missing mummy-filled crates from Canary Wharf or checking out reports of grave-robbing at a small church in Southwark, they chose the church. They determined that something had been burrowing into the graves, which had subsequently collapsed. Entering the catacombs below the church, they discovered a nest of Ghouls! While fighting them off, Baker was severely injured. The group was forced to retreat before completing a thorough search, and the elderly Father Robertson agreed to keep the catacombs firmly shut just in case.

    Chapter 2

    Two weeks later, Baker was fully recovered. He and Pratchett were assigned to help guard the British Museum the following evening. The Rippers were providing additional security to an exhibit of Mesopotamian grave artefacts, posing as Scotland Yard detectives. Until then, the pair had free reign to undertake their own investigations. Douglas was in the middle of another assignment and would not be joining them.

    Father Robertson visited Pratchett and reported that he had heard noises from the crypts. The pair go back to Southwark and slay a final Ghoul that had sated its hunger on the bodies of its fallen comrades. Unfortunately, one of the Ripper irregulars they brought as backup falls in combat.

    After returning to the city, the pair investigate the missing Mummy-laden crates from Canary Wharf. The crates came in on the Azimuth, a cargo ship registered to Leek Imports, owned by industrialist Conrad Leek. They deduce the likely location of the Mummy crates and raid a warehouse the following morning. It's empty save for the remnants of some crates, and four unopened ones that contain activated Mummies. They slew two in their boxes before the other pair burst out. The Mummies are defeated, but one of the Ripper irregulars falls in combat.

    Chapter 3

    After finishing off the Mummies, the group were forced to flee as the police approached.

    That night, the pair help guard the unusual Mesopotamian burial exhibition at the British Museum, under the direction of senior Ripper John Stebbins. The exhibit was an unusual form of mummification, with obvious Egyptian influences. A gang of Mummies attacked one of the rear entrances, and it took the combined force of seven Rippers and a game security guard to stop their advance.

    Alas, the assault had drawn their attention away from the exhibition room. As they returned, they witnessed a cat burglar climbing a rope to the skylight, with one of the canopic jars! Their attempts to foil the burglar's escape were in vain.

    I really started to feel the swinginess of Savage Worlds combat in these games - a lot of misses followed by one explosive, decisive hit. The extra-resilient Mummies (even Servitors have a high Parry and exceptional Toughness) probably don't help, so I will be sure to introduce more enemy variety in the ensuing sessions. I do feel for Professor Baker, as he's not really much chop in a fight.

    We have another session scheduled in the next couple of days. I still need to sit down and work out some more factional details and potential looming threats, but I've been going over things in my head so it should just be a matter of making some notes and pulling the threads to see what happens.

    >>> Chapter 4

    Sunday, 12 January 2014

    Pathfinder: Session 1

    +Michael's started a game of Pathfinder using the Beginner's Box, so I'm a player in this one!

    Not having played Pathfinder before, I'd gathered that it was an offshoot of D&D 3.5, and a lot of people on the forums I frequent find it to be overly fiddly, mechanically speaking. I played a few sessions of 3.5 a while back, and after much exposure to AD&D 2nd Edition in the 90's I actually really liked a lot of the changes they made - especially reversing AC/THAC0. However, I can totally see where it could become "too much" with all the manoeuvres, feats, and modifiers to keep track of.

    I'm starting to feel a bit "over" dungeon fantasy as a gaming genre, but was willing to give it a go. In my AD&D days, the simplicity of the Fighter had always appealed to me, so I started thinking about a two-handed sword warrior.

    I must say, the Beginner's Box really does an excellent job of guiding you through character creation and presenting your options clearly without being overwhelming. The layout and icons used throughout the book really help in this regard. 

    So I was going through the Hero's Handbook, looking at options for my planned greatsword-wielding Amazon - and then I opened the Player's Pack expansion and fell in love with the Barbarian class. I've always disliked D&D's tendency to make everyone move at the same speed, so the extra Movement really appealed. I also liked the idea of a warrior tapping into their primal rage to cause carnage and destruction. It really fit with the image I was developing for my character. Thus was born Durga the Thunderbolt.

    We're using the free version of Hero Lab to keep track of characters for this game. It certainly helps make the modifiers and fiddly parts of the rules more manageable.

    With a bit of a recruitment push, we ended up with five players plus GM.

    • +Annette plays Aliella Glorygem, a Dwarven Wizard (Evoker).
    • James plays Elerith, an Elven Cleric of Desna and the only Good-aligned member of the group (everyone else is some form of Neutral).
    • Maddi plays Constance, an Elven Rogue.
    • Sasha (absent) plays Asmira Mothwing, a Human Fighter with scale armour, a shield, a rapier, and a massive Dex bonus.
    • I play Durga the Thunderbolt, a Human Barbarian with a two-handed sword and studded leather armour for swift movement.

    The party began at the mouth of some caves, rumoured to be the lair of a beast known only as Black Fang. It had been attacking livestock near the coastal town of Sandpoint, so the group had accepted a request to seek out and destroy the menace. All of the characters save myself were locals; I had wandered in from the wilderness and taken this opportunity to prove my bravery and seek treasures.

    We were attacked by goblins at the cave mouth, who proved no match for us. We entered and came upon a group of goblins arguing with their leader. We negotiated with them and managed to gain information about Black Fang's weaknesses, but refused to accept the leader's quest to return a toy dragon to him. Negotiations broke down and we slew them all in battle.

    We avoided Black Fang's lair for the moment, choosing to explore the other chambers first. I swam across a deep pool to an island  where treasure lay, and was attacked by a Reefclaw. The treasure included a Dragonbane Longsword, which I claimed for the battle ahead, as it seemed Black Fang may be some form of draconic creature.

    We discovered a goblin and a giant spider dead near each other; the goblin held the toy black dragon that the goblin leader had wanted us to retrieve.

    The final room housed a glowing red ruby flanked by statues. After much caution, we approached and the statues announced "Approach with humility and live; approach with pride and die!" After much cautious debate, I crawled towards the altar. A fan of flame shot from each statue over my head, but there was enough room to claim the gem - which stopped the flames.

    We withdrew to the entrance chamber to camp and prepare for battle against Black Fang.

    Michael did a good job of GMing his first session ever, adapting well to our decisions and presenting the dungeon in a neutral manner - he wasn't out to get us, nor was he there to help us. 

    My only disappointment was that our characters all started the game without knowing each other, save a brief introduction on the road to the caves. I would have liked to establish connections to some of the other characters, giving me some extra motivation besides the mercenary promise of treasure. I thought it a little odd, anyway, given the characters were all supposed to be from a town of 1200 residents, that nobody knew anybody else at all.

    However, the lack of connections didn't impact the actual play of dungeon delving, and we began to develop the beginnings of relationships naturally as the game progressed. I was able to express my primal nature and take on my role in the party as highly mobile heavy hitter, a front-line fighter with my eye ever on the next doorway while the others searched and looted.

    All up I enjoyed the game, and I'm looking forward to Session 2! I am, however, also eager for this group - many of whom are novices - to experience some of the other flavours of RPGs. In particular, I'd love to run a game that wasn't focussed on maps and minis like our Savage Worlds, D&D Next, and Pathfinder games have been. I'm keen to try something like Apocalypse World, Ryuutama, or Tenra Bansho Zero with them, and Annette's also expressed a desire to run a Firefly game using the shiny new Cortex Plus edition - which would also meet my mini-less criteria and let me play as well!

    >>> To be continued!

    Wednesday, 8 January 2014

    Building System Familiarity

    As I discussed in the Rippers: Prologue post, some game systems have hurdles for new players based on familiarity with the system, and in particular with areas where the player needs to be familiar with a large array of options before they can make informed choices during character creation.

    In Fate 3, this was Stunts. In D&D 3.X, it's Feats. In Savage Worlds, it's Edges. For PowerFrame, it's Abilities.

    Without a thorough understanding of these areas, players risk making poor choices - either creating mechanically sub-optimal characters, or simply ending up with a character whose capabilities don't match the player's expectations. The hurdle lies in the time and effort required to read through all (or most) of the options, and in knowing the system well enough to be able to judge what is worthwhile and what is less important.

    PowerFrame has a list of roughly 50  Abilities, which cover everything from Strength to Politics. There is no divide between "stats" and "skills". The hurdle here, therefore, is knowing which Abilities are mechanically useful versus those that are more for flavour, which ones have core utility and which are required for specialised fields, and which ones you need in order to make your character the way you envision them.

    I recently cracked open the PowerFrame document to start work again, and finished off a page I'd been working on last year - Getting to Know the Abilities. It's a summary that goes through and points out the most useful and most frequently used Abilities, and which also provides a brief overview of some specialist areas such as movement, deception, and mysticism. I'm hoping this will be useful to new players trying to get over that initial hurdle.

    Missing Time

    Sorry for the hiatus - I spent the latter part of 2013 packing and cleaning my flat so I could move cities and start living with my fiancée. Now I'm all moved in (although not quite all unpacked), and I'm slowly adjusting to my new life and a different schedule. At the moment I'm a homemaker while my partner's working full-time, and I'm still adjusting to doing housework and garden maintenance all the time. Hopefully there'll be some freelance graphics work on the horizon, although I'd love to get paid to proofread RPGs! Once I get more into the swing of things, I hope to be able to set aside some decent chunks of time for various game and craft projects.

    This year I think I'd like to shift the focus of this blog away from detailed (and time-consuming) Actual Plays, towards summaries of the sessions' events and more discussion about how we played the game - where I thought the game system helped or hindered, or discussions of techniques. I started this somewhat with the Rippers: Prologue with a lengthy discussion of character creation, but I then followed it up with a complete AP. I think I'll also stop back-dating APs to when we played the session, and instead just post them when I get them done.

    With my change of lifestyle, I'm hoping to push on and finish my PowerFrame RPG this year, so I'm looking forward to blogging about my progress and thoughts on that system in general. Once that's done, or as the mood strikes me, I'll probably pick up some older projects and see if I can finish those off too - or I might just start something completely different!

    I'm looking forward to a fresh and diverse 2014 with new gamers in a new city. Thanks for reading last year, and for your ongoing patronage!