Monday, April 4, 2016

Easter Dungeon World play report

This easter i had the pleasure of running my first Dungeon World session.
Dungeon World is written by
Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel.

The “powered by the apocalypse”-games have really sparked my curiosity over the last year and i was exited to it a try.
Games under the "powered by the apocalypse" umbrella seems to exist in that less-than-clearly defined space between traditional and more indie/freeform-type of games.
Not having run this kind of game with these particular players (some of my oldest friends) made last night feel, in a sense, like an expedition to uncharted territories. This is an account of what happened.
Omissions have been made to protect the innocent.

Adventurers three

They met in a tavern. Barbosar the Melancholic a dwarf barbarian cast out from his home for causing the death of his own father, the King under the Mountain, by elven assassins.

Ragnar, a fighter, had left his home village after it was destroyed by the warlord Pollax. His pregnant wife killed during the attack. Regrouping at the forest inn Ragnar plans to get his revenge.

The bard Baltazar the Bedazzeling, perhaps better known as the bastard of Blue Garden, was also run out his hometown after “having his way” with the Earl of Blue Garden’s daughter. Baltazar’s kryptonite is boredom and his cure is spurring his companions to unplanned action.

A bounty hunter and elf warriors

The adventure began when Barbosar approached the only newcomer at The Full Mug on a fateful moonlit evening. The newcomer turned out to be Falur, a bounty hunter from Blue Garden, seeking a price on Baltazar’s head and offering the dwarf great glory and wealth if he betrayed his comrade.

Using subterfuge(!) Barbosar stalled for time and alerted his companions. Not long after Falur found himself ambushed by the heroic trio in the stables of the inn. To save his skin Falur offered to tell the adventurers a secret.

When Falur had passed through a hamlet called Volderon’s Hollow he discovered that the wizard Volderon had abandoned his tower. Looting a wizard’s tower would be both profitable and glorious the heroes figured and decided to seek it out immediately.

Going to secure some important supplies beer from the innkeeper Raltvak, Barbosar finds that a party of elves have arrived at the inn. There is no love lost between Barbosar and the “Fair folk” and the indignant dwarf slaps Raltvak in the face before explaining to the innkeep how he feels about the pointy ears. The confrontation with the, possibly charmed, innkeeper escalates quickly with elven warriors rushing down the stairs of the inn.

Outside Baltazar and Ragnar have helped themselves to the elf band’s horses as Barbosar flees the inn. Elven arrows whistle by their ears, a few even strike true, as they make their escape towards Volderon’s Hollow with the elven warriors in pursuit.

Volderon’s Hollow

Arrving at Volderon Hollow the heroes encounter Gresham, a toothless old man, who seems to be last surviving villager. Gresham claims that ever since the wizard Volderon left his castle the villagers have been “eaten” by the shadows of the village.

Indeed as the heroes take a rest in Gresham’s hut they are attacked by a shadow creature which they fortunately manage to kill. After the figth they realize that Gresham is gone and they catch a glimpse of him running towards the abandoned wizard’s tower.

To the Tower…

The heroes rush into the tower crushing a pair of undead minions as they search for Gresham. He is easily found, as his mad howls to his master lead the heroes to a castle hall with a strange black gate covering most of the wall. When wicked flying shadow vultures burst from the gate and skeletal archers kill the tragic Gresham the heroes find themselves in a desperate battle.

Heroes, however, are want to prevail. They destroy the skeleton archers and drive the nightwings back into the black gate.

As they search the goods that Gresham have accumulated in the hall in an attempt to placate the entity beyond the darkness, Baltazar discovers that the old man still draws breath. With his dying words Gresham inform them that Volderon is captured beyond the black gate.

Then, in a somewhat stunning reversal of motivations, the three heroes decide to leap into the shadow void to rescue the wizard Volderon.

Into the void

Me being a TuffBoy preparing for the session.
Enveloped in utter darkness the heroes encounter the Lord of Shadow who, reasonably enough, inquires as to why they are in his realm. The heroes explain their presence and inquire about what they will have to do to escape the Shadow-realm.

It was a rather faustian deal.

However, seeing no other way, the heroes take it. Leaving the Shadow Realm, alongside the wizard Volderon, they are all bound to the service of the demon lord.

Good fun was had by all.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Aliens of the Alba System

Aslans

Lion Warrior by Demarcos
The Shisa are lion-like bipedal humanoids. They populated Novus Albion before the humans arrived but their medieval technology level was no match for the First settlers and the Shisa were quickly pacified.

The Shisa have about the same height and weight measures as humans. They have a slightly longer lifespan, up to 140 years, but reach sexual maturity after only six or seven years.

In the centuries since they have either lived on closely observed reservations maintaining their traditional way of life or have served as slaves for affluent humans. Lately Shisa have regained some of their position on Novus Albion, but many Shisa are hesitant of becoming to integrated with a human society viewed as too technologically focused.

Honor and tradition are very important to the Shisa. Their society is democratic and democratic participation is tied with honor. Breaking the trust of the community are one of the worst sins in Shisa communities.

Shisa architecture is dominated by a fascination for stone circles and pagoda-like structures. Their dress is reminiscent of Asian cultures on earth and so is their expertise in sword-making. This art form almost died out during the first years of slavery, but swords have lately become fashionable among the elites of New Camelot.


The Alba system Shisa are inspired by the Aslan-race from Traveller and the Rakasta from the D&D module Rage of the Rakasta.

Pechs

These green-greyish humanoid bipeds live mainly underground on both Novus Virginia and Novus Victoria, but on Victoria they are believed to be close to extinction.

Pechs have large heads and large eyes on top of spindly bodies. They are species of sentient fungoid and don’t have a circulatory system. Pechs have a single sex and reproduce by planting spores into decaying plant or animal remains.

Goblin Necromancer by NetherRealm
Growing conditions are important to pech size and lifespan. Most pechs are between 0.9 and 1.2 meters tall with a mass of about 20 kilograms, but smaller versions (even under 0.3 meters) have been encountered and the largest pechs observed have been over 2.5 meters tall with a mass of around 150 kilograms.

Pechs have developed crude steam technology used primarily for mining and warfare purposes. Still they do not pose much of a serious threat to the human colonial populations on their home worlds. However, occasional abductions and subsequent ritual murder of people and livestock, for the purpose of growing new Pechs, have made them both feared and hated by the humans.

The fact that such a low-technology species appears on two planets have continued to puzzle the science community of the Alba system. No definite answer has been given, but in popular media theories of an ancient space-faring race moving the Pechs from one planet to another have grown popular despite the lack of evidence.

Pechs are inspired by the standard D&D goblins with a steampunk twist and the "get out of the way peck!" line from the movie Willow (1988).

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

History of the Alba System

A starship flying over a cloud covered planet
The Alba Sector's history of Civil War has almost depleted the
fleets of the Queen of Alba and the Republic of Novus Victoria.
I developed the Alba-sector setting for a one-shot Christmas game of Stars Without Number.

As the setting for a one-shot i went somewhat overboard, but that means more blog posts.


I will start with some history for the Alba system.

Settling the system

The Alba System was settled late in first wave of humanity’s expanse into the stars.

Its primary settlers were born on the British Isles and the first city founded on Novus Albion was named New Camelot. The second and third habitable planets of the system were named Novus Virginia and Victoria.

A unique system with three human miscible and rich planets the Alba star- system grew quickly into an important trade hub after the indigenous alien races, the Shisa and the Pechs, were pacified.

The construction of a jump gate in 2320 solidified the system’s economic standing.

The ruling oligarchy of First settlers kept immigration to a minimum and developed a stratified social system support their own economic dominance, but still allowing later rounds of settlers to prosper.

The Scream

Following the Scream the Alba systems economy faltered as their interstellar connections disappeared. The First settlers tightened control over resources at first, courting an uprising of the lover classes, but in 2695 Genevieve “Ginny” Rassendyll, the President of the First Council, opposes the First Council’s policies by refusing to sign legislation that would condemn both Third settlers and the Shisa minority to extreme poverty and possibly starvation.

After this President Ginny continues to push liberal agendas, ensuring cooperation by all classes in maintaining economic safety and social order for all inhabitants. She even included policies that would give the Shisa full citizenship and remove settler status or species as requirements to hold public offices.

A faction led by Count Dennis Victor, commander of the Albion Defense Fleet, from Novus Victoria tried to oust the President in a coup in 2699, but were stopped by the Albion Constabulary Forces in a firefight inside the Council Palace itself. The incident left Count Victor himself dead and his faction in disarray. Following the Count’s death his daughter Beatrice Victor, commander of the ADF cruiser “Belfast”, ordered an all-out air strike on the New Camelot spaceport nearly crippling it before she returned to Novus Victoria.

Civil War

Civil War within the Alba system was now a fact and on Novus Victoria Beatrice declared herself president and denounced the First Council on Novus Albion. In a somewhat surprising move Ginny Rassendyll declared herself Queen of the Alba system and the First Council instituted a monarchy after a hastily organized referendum.

After about five months Novus Virginia also recognized Queen Genevieve following an armed uprising instigated by the Victorian government. Although the instigators and some of the leaders of the uprising were executed, while others were imprisoned, many with Victorian sympathies were allowed to leave Novus Virgina.

The first year of fighting saw the decimated Albion fleet repel three invasion attempts by the Victorians. Both sides had lost much of their fleets and the space war was reduced to defensive posturing.

Groups loyal to the opposing side on both planets formed irregular military units that fought ground wars with the local forces. The Albion loyalist militia on Novus Victoria was the most successful and threatened Capitol City at one point. This success prompted the first cease fire and negotiations between the sides in 2702.

Although negotiations put an end to planetside warfare it left the larger issues unresolved. Both sides claim the right to rule and have not been reconciled over the centuries. The sides have continually been in a state war since 2699, but active warfare has only been occasional.

The current state of affairs

There is a continual defensive posturing of space fleets. Most interstellar ships were destroyed during the first bombardment and early fighting. The Victorians only have access to a handful of spike drive ships, the Albions only a few more. The system frigates and fighters exchange torpedo fire from time to time, but there is no real space war between the two sides.

Both governments have adopted isolationist policies and have funneled resources into building defensive systems against the other side. Exploration of the region surrounding Alba is limited to a couple of systems.

On Novus Albion the isolationists have been challenged by a growing movement that supports more interstellar exploration. It is rumored that this movement has gained support from royal circles lately, but this is unconfirmed.

Proxy- and low-intensity warfare have been conducted by both sides. Espionage and industrial sabotage operations are the most common.

The Victorian sponsored Black Brigade have been the most active on Novus Albion the last decade.

The Victorians have been blamed for an attack by Hochog mercenaries on Novus Virgina, although they deny the charge. There have also been terror attacks, usually bombings, on New Camelot which have caused tensions between the government in Capitol City and the monarchs of Novus Albion.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Top five of 2015

I began this blog one year ago. Posting has been sporadic, but it has been fun. Looking at the posts that i know people read and interacted with is certainly good.

So i have looked at the stats (page views, interactions and such) and these are the top five Realm of Melpomene posts of 2015!

Top five posts of the Realm
I rolled a lot of D&D 5e dice in 2015!

Writing about D&D 5th edition was the thing to do in 2015 i guess.

The future of the Realm

I will keep the blog going in 2016. It probably won't be updated any more than once a month unless i suddenly find myself with a lot more time on my hands.

Is there anything you would like to see on the blog? Please leave a comment on the blog or talk to me on Google+

I wish you all good times and happy gaming in 2016!



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Looking at Unholy Land for (He)X-Mas

Over at Worlds Without Master the Epimas bundle sale is still going. Bundles of indie tabletop role playing games and supplements available until the morning of the 24th of December (so hurry!).

In the mix of exiting games Unholy Land - An Ahistorical Hex-Mas Crawl for Mid-Level Characers, which is a bona fide OSR offering, appears.

(I was a bit surprised, the Indie RPG-scene and the OSR (the OSR also being indie, but possibly not "a scene") at times seem to exist in parallel universes, hermetically sealed from one another. Although the number of people with the necessary universe-transcending powers seem to be growing. Hopefully)

Product

"Bethlehem" from Mead Clarkes
Christian Parlor Magazine Vol III (1847).
Similar art is used in Unholy Night
The Unholy Land hexcrawl by Casey Garske is a 26-page PDF of which there are 23 pages of game material. The cover and hexmap are in color while the rest of the PDF is black-and-white.

It is a single column layout with what appears to be mostly public domain artwork from medieval sources.

Illustrations range from a depiction of the mummified head of Ramses the Great to old book-style illustrations of the town of Bethlehem.

Content

Unholy Land quickly (one page) sets the scene for the hexcrawl. In short we are in Roman Judea in 2 BCE and things are going down. King Herod fears the birth of child destined to bring about his downfall, but even weirder things are afoot with the undead rising, monsters of legend reappearing and demonic forces on the move.

On top of it all a star, visible to the naked, eye moves from east to west in the heavens astounding astronomers and sages alike.

After the scene is set we are given tools. A load of encounter tables for different types of foes. There are also tables for random village encounters and a specific Jerusalem encounter table. Most encounters are somewhat fleshed out with a line or even a paragraph to guide the DM. A table of rumors and prophecies guide the player characters into the hexcrawl.

The three magi on their journey to Bethlehem
The three magi appears in
Unholy Night
The hex descriptions are short and clear rather than evocative. They range from cultist seeking sacrifice to the PCs possibly allying themselves with an undead army.

Some hex locations describe encounters that will move around the map as time progresses in the game. Not all the encounters are tied together however so there are multiple potential emerging stories depending on the players actions.

At the end there is a bestiary for both NPCs and monsters. Stats are minimal and in a basic OSR format. (The damage levels makes me think the stats are AD&D inspired, but i could be wrong)

Judgement

I liked reading Unholy Land and i think i would enjoy running it immensely for the right group of players.

My one criticism is that there is no guidance, not even a single line, about what kind of PC's might be suited for the game. A band of Judean rebels? Roman soldiers on leave trying to earn some extra gold on the side? Time travelers? Anything would be possible, but it requires some work up front for the DM and players to decide. Of course, this is not necessarily a negative.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A "Deviant Decade" - 1970's roleplaying

The cover of Deviant Decade
I played a quick session of John M Stater’s recently released 70’s B-movie inspired game “Deviant
Decade” last night and that spurred me to write an impromptu review and share some of my fascination for the 70’s with my readers.

First, I will say a few words about my personal take on the deviant decade itself, then go on to the game.

It came from the 70s


My life experience does not include the 70’s. I was born in the early eighties, but for a time now, I have held a fascination with 70s history and culture.

On a very personal level, I think the fascination with the 70s grew from the fact that it was when the time my parents were in their 20s. Looking back at my own life I found that the years between age 19 and 29 has changed me both profoundly and in ways I did not expect.  My parents went through those years in the 70s with everything that entails from the Cold War to bell-bottoms. It must have been something.

Gay rights demonstration in 1976
(Photo: public domain)
Then there is the fact that much of the popular culture that I love and many of the social movements that have affected me grew out of 70s. Stanley Kubrick’s “A clockwork orange”, 2nd-wave feminism, John Pertwee’s Doctor Who, the resurgence of sword-and-sorcery, sexual liberation, counterculture, exploitation-cinema (which existed earlier but was transformed in the 70’s), the New Left, heavy metal, the deinstitutionalization of psychiatric care and last, but not least, the creation of Dungeons & Dragons.

Roleplaying itself, to me, is a child of the 70s whether it is Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s creation of D&D in ‘74 or the founding of the Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary in ’77 you trace its origins by. Both genealogies of the hobby just proves that there were many good ideas to come out of the “Deviant Decade”.

About the game


John M Stater, who runs the Land of Nod-blog, makes games with a decidedly old school bent. “Deviant Decade” is no different, with simple minimalist rules, character classes and freeform objective design meant to challenge player skill and focus on the emergent, as opposed to the pre-planned, story.

Deviant Decade is a 34-page black and white PDF product of which 31 pages is actual game content. There are a few public domain images throughout and a half-page overview map of New York city with 10 marked locations, but no descriptions of the locations.

The short introduction sets the game in the crime-ridden big city streets of the 1970’s stating that the characters are larger-than-life survivors of these streets.

Character generation, skills and stuff

GM: "You went to see Caligula and it made you hungry for
even more decadent entertaiment. What do you do?"
(Photo: vaticanus, CC BY 2.0)

The game moves quickly through character generation. Seven ability scores rates from one to six and rolled with seven d6 rolls that the player can assign to which ability he chooses. The players then choose from 14 classes ranging from the Average Joe through the Night Nurse to the Vietnam Veteran.

Classes list the primary and secondary skills for the characters with tertiary skills chosen freely by the player. Starting skill scores are determined randomly with primary skills having the best chance of a high starting score. PC get seven skills total, one primary, three secondary and tertiary. Skills are ranked from zero to twelve, but starting values are no higher than six.

There are also a table of weapons and a short list of other 1970’s appropriate items with prices.

Mechanics and the lack of advancement


The resolution mechanic is a 3d6 roll under skill + ability score + modifiers in the -2 to +2 range. A few skill descriptions indicate a variable difficulty using 2d6 for easier tasks and 4d6 for harder tasks. Given that 12 is the maximum skill+ability score for a starting character it makes it hard for players to see many successful rolls. The harshness of this is somewhat offset by an interesting Luck mechanic, but the game is still on hardcore (or maybe just old school) mode.

The game has no advancement rules.

Adventure oportunities and sewer gators


Graffiti covered undergroud and your chaaracter?
(Photo: NARA/public domain)
The adventures section provides five “adventure templates” with a small table for each to flesh out an adventure setting or opposition. The templates slants towards action and survival-horror adventures with or without supernatural opponents.

Following the adventures is the monster section with something like 40 “monsters” from bikers, cops and street punks to giant apes, sewer gators and vampires. There are pop-cultural references here that made me smile and the diversity supports a range of adventures.

Monsters also have levels to judge how hard a challenge they are, but given the lack of an advancement system for PC’s they all look very dangerous.

Hard times for teens in the 70s.
(Actress Eve Plumb in
Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway) 

My game last night


The game I ran last night was a spur of the moment idea with a single player and me as GM. I think we spent less than 30-minutes from the time we agreed to try Deviant Decade until we were actually playing a game where an exorcist priest was trawling the seedy parts of Bronx looking for a possibly demon-possessed teenage girl. 

The supernatural-thriller (ala The Exorcist/Rosemary’s Baby) with urban crawl-ish elements was a nice fit for the game. It was a blast playing this game!

As the game mechanics are hard and we were playing a one-shot I was greedy with calling for die rolls and lenient with granting positive modifiers when my player had good ideas (which she usually has). I think that is good GM advice when running Deviant Decade.

(Photo: NARA/public domain)

Your game?


Overall, I recommend this game, I recommend the 70s too even if I have not been there, but I did play this game. For $2.99 you get a functional, fun and easy game tailored to experience the grime, crime and decadence of the 70s city streets. Dig?


I would like to see an advancement system though (even if making one up would not be very hard).

Sunday, August 23, 2015

D&D 5th edition PayWhatYouWant reviews

My go-to game for the last six months have been 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons. This has led me to look out for free or PayWhatYouWant supplements for the game from time to time. I just love the fact people make content available for the game and i want to support their efforts.

So i figured i would give my personal, yet reflected, opinions on some recent finds. These are three small products, either free or PWYW, all available from DriveThruRPG:

Never Ask Directions

Never Ask Directions is a sidetrek adventure by John "Ross" Rossomangno. It is intended for character levels 2-4. The PDF is 16 pages with the adventure taking about 11 pages.

When i saw the words sidetrek adventure i immediately remembered the sidetrek adventures i read in Dungeon Magazine. These short, "drop'em wherever", adventurers were always my favorites as a teenager since i spent a lot of time making my own adventures and never really desired to run multi-session adventures someone else had written. But i digress.

Not calling itself a sidetrek to camouflage a bare bones adventure setup Never Ask Directions is indeed a complete module. There are several suggested hooks and a simple but functional back story that provides a good rationale for the adventure.

Furthermore the adventure features three adventure locations, one new magical item and a few original NPC's. The author has even included a sidebar about how to use sidetrek adventures and provides ideas about how to build on the adventure after its completion.

The adventure itself is simple and straight forward as the plot moves the PC's through the adventure locations. Along the way the author has provided some guidance on how to handle adventuring parties that does not act as expected. These are guidelines and I am left the impression that the adventure won't feel like a railroad, but the linear plot will challenge a DM whose player's insist on acting contrary to the plot.

All in all Never Ask Directions feels like a satisfactory mini-adventure that would be very easy to drop into any campaign. It is well-crafted and complete, but linear and simple which can present a challenge to DM's not keen on railroading players. Still, I recomend picking it up and keeping it handy for that session when you really need a sidetrek adventure.

As a final note i want to add that Never Ask Directions reminds me, vaguely, of The Trouble with Mylvin Wimbly by Andrew McCray (originally printed in Dungeon magazine #5 and it was included in the norwegian translation of the Mentzer Red Box). However The Trouble with Mylvin Wimbly is basically a miniature hexcrawl yet still basically useable is an instant (8-page) adventure. I want more adventures like that.

NPC Codex

The NPC Codex by Dan Coleman is a collection of 13 NPC that can be dropped into your game. The PDF is 15 pages with 14 pages of game content.

As a DM i enjoy making and using colorful, rounded NPC's in my game. The NPC you get in the NPC Codex are just that. From a rowdy markswoman to an arrogant half-elven wizardess these NPC's are simple yet rounded and not one-dimensional. The power-level of the NPC's span the lower tier of play with a range of challenge ratings from ¼ to 5.

The author provides a concept, a physical description alongside personality, quirks and memorable features for all these NPC's alongside full game stats. The NPC's feel ready-to-use but there is also room to expand and adjust them to suit your own campaign. A "GM Tip" sidebar is also added to each NPC with suggestions on how to use them.

All the NPC are are illustrated. The art is by the author and the simple drawings are beautiful and evocative which really helps with the feel for each NPC.

I should point out though that the NPC presented in this product are all fairly likeable, so if you are specifically looking for a villain to use in your campaign you might have to look elsewhere.

All in all if you (like me) and your players like using fleshed-out NPC's in your game the NPC Codex is worth checking out for yourself and even buying at it's suggested price (and maybe even a little more).

Heirs of Desperation

Heirs of Desperation from Tabletop Terrors Publishing is a supplement designed to raise money to fight poverty in India. According to the creators all proceeds goes to a charity called the Hands of Freedom. I won't go further into the charity aspect of the product, except to say that I support the idea of using ones creative hobbies for charitable purposes.

The Heirs of Desperation purpose of alleviating poverty is also apparent in the product content. The PDF is 16 pages with about 11 pages of game content.

There are three sections focusing on three poverty-related real-world problems and how they might be employed as challenges in a fantasy game world. The problems are:

  • Water shortage
  • Hunger
  • Orphans

For each section there is a short introduction to the real-world problem, with links to external material to further educated the reader. Game related there is a monster thematically linked to each problem and a selection of six plot hooks (with a fantasy spin) related to each problem. At the end there is a vigilante NPC character that could be used to introduce these problems to the player characters.

I'll say right up front that i found the plot hooks the most useful. Their quality is variable, but several of them gave me enough instantly to begin planning or improvising an adventure. I like that the plot hooks are not one sentence, but actually short paragraphs which make them much more fleshed-out. I think even the poorer plot hooks could be very usable, but they will require a bit more work by the DM.

The monster are okay but not as clearly thematically linked to the real-world problem as the plot hooks. The monsters are illustrated by Gauntes and the illustrations are simple but i enjoyed them. It is a shame that there is some text missing at the bottom of page eight where, i assume, some information would be given on how to lift a curse that the hunger-themed monster imparts. Not a huge problem but a little annoying because it is also the monster i liked best (although the oprhan monster, the Dread Father, was scarier).

All in all i like Heirs of Desperation quite well. It is not awesome, but the plot hooks are useful and some of them are inspiring too. The monsters, while not very original, could also be good addition to a campaign.