Sunday, February 23, 2020

Chronicles of Neverwhere: An Introduction

The Seeds of Inspiration
For a long time I have been wanting to put together a campaign and run. Over the last few years between time, the waxing/waning of motivation, gamer ADD, lack of people to run it for, and countless other reasons my campaign has never happened. Though, at this moment despite various obstacles I find myself motivated, inspired, and I have people to run it for.

My main inspiration for the core concept of this game as come from three places. The first one bringVincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard (sadly the game is currently unavailable but additional information can be found here, here, and here.) Secondly, from the work done regarding the Ashen Company on the Runehammer Forums and Justice: An Ashen Company Adventure. Finally, I cannot forget the Night's Watch from Game of Thrones.

The base setting is heavily influenced from Warhammer Fantasy with ideas mined from The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane.

So, the world is dripping with the usual fantasy tropes, politics, chaos, corruption, a dash of black powder, and beings that just want to see the world burn.  

The Premise
All characters are members of the Crimson Company (they get their name from the crimson cloaks they wear which acts like a badge of office) which is a company of Rangers that are set up like a guild. The Crimson Company has authority to seek out corruption, act as law officers, and sit in as a judge if necessary (their authority is recognized throughout the various lands and kingdoms - think something like the UN). Though, with that being said the Rangers mostly deliver mail, assist towns with problems, protect people and towns from monsters, retrieve artifacts from forgotten places, etc. The Rangers get a monthly stipend for travel and food, access to some specialty items,  and must submit a percentage of their wealth found to the guild in addition to logging in magical items.

The System of Choice
This is where I have went round and round with myself to decide what system to use. I have done a lot of prep work using differences systems then decided to scrap it at the last minute and look for something else. I have finally decided on using Crimson Dragon Slayer d20 Revised along with Cha'Alt Ascended for special abilities and baselines for players to create their own. Of course I have added my own house rules and flavor to the mix to make the PC's more heroic but not superhuman by any means. I am using it for campaign play so I do not know how I am going to adjust the leveling system yet, but I will get to that bridge when I cross it. Below are my house rules;

Setting Notes
I am keeping the setting vague for various reasons and some of them I cannot discuss because I know my players read this blog. Mainly because I want to the world to be a living, breathing, and growing situation so my players can add to it. There are a few points to note about the setting:

  • The war between the Gods and the Titans (from Scarred Lands) did happen in the distant past of Neverwhere. 
  • I am using the pantheon from The Scarred Lands.

  • There is a strong element of Chaos and and the substance warp stone which both cause mutations and other nasty effects. I was going to post my page of rules regarding that but I want to keep it a surprise when my players encounter mutants or suffer the taint themselves. 

Well, that is it for now. I hope to have a Session 0 up in a few weeks.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Dog Days: Session 6

Thorin gained passage on a ship called the Wave Runner that was heading to Retriever. During the voyage the crew of the Wave Runner spots another ship (which is called the Golden Dragon) and assumes it is a pirate vessel because the other ship starts to close and fire on the Wave Runner. Both ships circle each other and shots are exchanges as minimal damage is sustained by both ships. Eventually both ships get close enough to board each other and mass melee ensues. During the battle, Thorin notices his other companions on the Golden Dragon and sees Phane mouth the word "slavers". As Thorin fights his way to his companions he finds Ghost in trouble and kills his now former shipments to save Roger and this leads to Thorin obviously switching sides. As the battle quickly turns in the favor of the Golden Dragon Roger and Phane slip below the deck and set a fuse to blow up the Wave Runners gun powder stores. During their trip down, Phane and Roger do not notice any slaves. 

Both Phane and Roger return to the deck of the Wave Runner as the battle ends and the Captain of the Wave Runner is killed. The Golden Dawn sets sail away from the Wave Runner to find a port for repairs and the party reunites as the Wave Runner explodes in the distance. During Thorin's introduction to the Captain and the first mate of the Golden Dragon, Phane informs the Captain that there was no slaves on the ship and he demands to see the Wave Runners manifest. An argument ensues the ends when the Captain yells to everyone that he will share the manifest when he is done studying it and anyone that thinks differently can swim with the fishes. Ghost escorts Phane away from the Captain to avoid anymore trouble.

The Golden Dragon finds a port a few days later and docks for repairs. As most of the party stays with the ship to help with repairs Roger heads to the local tavern and Thorin decides to track down the local blacksmith to see if he could trade some work for new armor. The blacksmith did not have any work that Thorin was qualified for but did mention a few weeks ago his shipment of steel was stolen by wolves and if I am able to return it he would make me armor and pay Thorin 500 gold. 

Thorin finds Roger at the tavern to explain to him the job opportunity. During their conversation, Thorin learns that Roger has been talking to the barkeeper and has learned some interesting things that shed light into the Blacksmith. About five years ago there was another blacksmith in town that did better quality work but he died in a mysterious fire and he was not the last person that has died mysteriously over the years. In addition, the current blacksmith does shoddy work on purpose so he is needed to keep fixing door hinges and other things around the port. The barkeep also knew about the missing shipment of steel and offered the party 2,000 gold to give the steel to him has he has a plan to run the blacksmith out of business and out of town. 

Roger and Thorin then return to the ship and explain the entire situation to the rest of the party. It was decided that the party will return the steel shipment to the bartender. The party takes the night to rest and then heads to the blacksmiths at first light. The blacksmith says he will send his son as our guide to lead us to the spot of the ambush. 

As the party travels to the ambush spot the kid opens ups and explains that the murders have been happening for five years and the bodies are usually found skinned. The kid also explains that he has fleas that talk to him and tell him things which is one of the reasons why he is able to keep safe. The party finally makes it to the ambush site and finds a note nailed to one of the bodies, the note reads;

"this is revenge for the murders" 

The kid interrupts the parties discussion and says the fleas are telling him that it is not the wolves fault - they just retaliated. Roger decides it is time to pull out his wolf banner and the kid says the fleas told him the banner will keep them safe. During the following discussion it is decided that whoever is doing the killing they are killing both the wolves and the townspeople. The townspeople suspects the wolves and the wolves suspect the towns people. The party decides to head back to town to talk to the local guard captain to see if they can get more information before setting out to track down the wolves. 

Regis the guard captain offers us a reward if the party helps him solve the murders. The captain goes on to explain that the bartenders wife was murdered shortly after the last blacksmith was, The captain continues to explain that the current blacksmith borrowed a lot of money from the bartender to start up his forge and never paid the bartender back so the bartender tries to sabotage the blacksmith every chance he gets. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

First Role Playing Experiences

The other day I had random memories flood back to me and it made me realize something. That something was that when I am asked what were my first gaming experiences I usually talk about World of Darkness 2nd Edition and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition. For whatever reason, I forgot to mention what they actually were back in 5th grade before I discovered dice and rule books.  


In 5th grade I lived in a small town and a lot of the neighborhood kids were older. My next door neighbor R started a "game night" where we would all hang out in his room and pass a notebook around creating group fiction. Though, before the story started we all made characters and listed some of the abilities we had. R listed what were basically Dungeon and Dragons/Diablo/fantasy archetypes or classes. I choose the Paladin because I thought it was awesome that I could enchant any weapon to catch on fire, heal people, and grow wings for some amounts of time. R had various rules for how abilities would affect the story and how long they would last. We met once or twice a week and some of us were regulars while other players rotated. Between sessions one of us would take the current notebook home to add more story and a plot hook. I do not remember how many of those composition notebooks we ended up filling up but R's dresser was stacked with them - a safe guess would be far into the double digits.

I do not remember when we made the transition into X-Men inspired by the comics and the awesome 90's cartoon but we did. Though, there was a main difference - it went from notebooks to live action. We all started playing LARP X-Men throughout the neighborhood and the elementary school grounds that was within walking distance. We each got to pick three characters and rotate through them as needed. I remembered that my choices were Cyclops, Mr. Sinister, and Gambit (ya, I know there was some meta in that decision). We all contributed to creating a stack of mission cards/plot points and those were used but a lot of time in game the story just kind of unfolded. The interesting thing about this experience as I compare it with my later LARP experiences is that there was no fancy costume requirements, no props to think of, and no GM/Storyteller or other Staff, everyone was a player and the story just evolved through interaction with the random aid of those mission cards (which were written on 3x5 index cards). A lot of time was spent running around the neighborhoods, wrestling in the grass, and exploring Goonies style. 

Both of these first experiences took up all of my 5th grade year and spilled over into my 6th grade year. My memory is not perfect as it has been so long ago but my favorite thing about these memories is how organic and simple it was. No politics, no alternate motives, no edition wars, no you can't play because you don't have x/y/z, or rules lawyering. 

But I digress, I need to remember to tell people about these experiences next time I asked what my first RPG was...

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Dog Days: Session 4 & 5

Below are quick recaps of three sessions that I missed due to life. These were written by another player.

Session 4
Felcher and Thorin separated from Phane, Roger, and Ghost.  Thorin and Felcher went with the villagers into the mountains to protect them, to meet in the nearest city at a later date.  Roger, Ghost, and Phane traveled towards the city.  They crossed paths with numerous soldiers setting out for war with the cat empire, who had declared war on the triumvirate.  They continued on and helped a merchant replace his wagon wheel, which was broken.  They traveled on with him to the city and left word with one of his colleagues to give to Felcher and Thorin that they were going to get passage on a ship to the Island of Retriever.  

Session 5
Roger, Ghost, and Phane traveled towards the city to book passage on a boat with the merchant.  They were stopped three times by highwaymen asking for a toll payment.  Ghost paid the toll each time.  However, when they were stopped by the actual guards who were supposed to be protecting the roads from highwaymen who requested a toll, they refused.  They argued and nearly did battle until the toll was paid eventually.  Once arriving at a border city, they discovered that wolves had attacked the city and destroyed it.  Roger assisted the wolves in tracking down a missing cohort and fought against some dogs they were in battle with.  He received a special banner which would grant protection and safe passage by wolves.  They got to the city and booked passage on a ship.  Ghost was on guard duty at the aft of the ship and discovered a pirate was closing in on them.  They did battle with the pirate ship and defeated its crew and sank the ship.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Sword and Backpack

Sword and Backpack is a fantasy game designed by Rothbard and Gazpus that is 100% focused on story and the characters. The only mechanic that exists is rolled a d20 and adding a +5 (if the action falls within your job/class) vs. A target number. The original game can be found here and it is four pages long. What is more is that the pages are formatted to be cut out and taped/glued into a small moleskin notebook. This transforms the notebook into your character sheet and the Chronicle of your adventures. It does not take much effort to assemble it either:

Just reading through the game and the supplemental material was immediately inspiring to me and really changed the way I viewed gaming. It also led to some great adventures and role play moments. 

I finally hit some difficulty with when introducing it to new players or players who have only played crunch heavy games as Sword and Backpack is extremely freeform. So, I went to tinkering with it and all of my early attempts over complicated it which made it lose its soul. I eventually gave up the tinkering until I came across Cecil Howe's Hack and things just clicked (he cracked the code to tinker with it) and I went to work tweaking it after getting some experience playing Cecil's hack. Cecil Howe was kind enough to let me use his work and art on my version as long as I gave him credit. 

You can find my "Breakfast Club" Edition (Hack) here and the cover here. It is already formatted in booklet form and yes, the red cover is inspired by Kung Fu Hustle.

Here is also a four panel character sheet that was put together by Mr. Gone.

The core differences in my "Breakfast Club" Edition are:
  • Changed how class bonuses interact with difficulty ratings
  • Structured combat
  • Added a wound/effort system
  • Added a set of optional "Advanced" Sword and Backpack rules that are focused for campaign play
 I would also highly recommend reading the Sword and Backpack Broadsheet Collection. They are a best of GM and Player advice for this game but can honestly be used across the board.

The most powerful thing about Sword and Backack is that it is more then a game, it is a philosophy and that philosophy can be summed up with the Dungeon Punk Manifesto:













Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Thief Redux

Thieves from any of the old school games such as Labyrinth LordB/X EssentialBasic FantasySwords and Wizardry, all of the other retroclones, and original editions have all suffered from two main problems. The first one being the horrible d% progression skill system. A d% skill system isn't bad in itself but it is the starting values and progression that that really handicap the class Thief. The second main issue is the Thief's ability to survive as they tend to be rather squishy out of the box. There has been countless proposed alternates including getting rid of the class together and this option had caused many heated debates.

I think the class adds flavor and really helps the party be more efficient at certain tasks (and attract less unwanted attention). They also help parties solve certain obstacles in more creative ways.

This is all do to their specialization but what they are suppose to be good at they are not, especially at early levels.

Before I go further, this is whatever everyone has a chance of doing on a mundane level;

  • Hear Noise: 1 in 6 chance, demi-humans have a 2 in 6 chance, Thieves start at 2 in 6 and improve to 5 in 6 by level 11.
  • Expert Miner: Dwarves detect slanting passages, traps, shifting walls, and new construction with a 2 in 6 chance. 
  • Secret Doors: Anyone has a 1 in 6 chance to find a secret door, elves have a 2 in 6 chance. 
  • Hiding: Halflings have a 2 in 6 chance to remain hidden in dungeons.
  • Opening Doors: Anyone has a 2 in 6 chance opening a stuck door, modified by Strength.
  • Finding Traps: Anyone has a 1 in 6 chance to find a trap (non-magicial), dwarves have a 2 in 6 chance. 
  • Lighting Fires: Anyone had a 2 in 6 chance lighting a torch/fire in one round with a tinderbox.
  • Foraging/Huning: There is a 1 in 6 chance that anyone can find enough food (suitable animals to eat, etc.) For one day.

B/X Essentials 
Swords and Wizardry 

The Thief skills are commonly misunderstood in theory and execution as anyone can attempt some of them and even though some skills are cross pollinated the Theif possesses a higher level of training. This training makes the Thief more effective and almost magical in execution. 

Climb Walls: This skill relates to climbing sheer surfaces and no one else can do that.

Delicate Tasks and Traps: This encompasses things like pick pocketing and disarming traps. It is a speciality skill and the run of the mill classes don't have access to it. 

Hear Sounds: A universal skill. Thieves are better at it and this skill improves in the x in 6 style.

Hide in Shadows: This gets confused with move silently or Stealth which anyone can attempt but the Thief can effective become invisible in corners and at night. 

Open Locks: A specific and trained skill and other classes don't have access to it.

Of all the alternatives I have seen in "official printed" material, five stand out far above the others:

1. The Thief from White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game by Seattle Hill Games. This using an increasing all encompassing Thievery  x in 6 die that scales with level.

2. The Specialist from Lamentations of a Flame Princess. The Specialist gets skill points to put in various skills using the x in 6 system. They are the only class that gets skill points and these points increase every level. The playtest rules actually make me like this version a lot more as it changes the skills to 1d6+x and you need to get a total of 6 more.

3. The Thief Alternate found in Black Pudding #4 by James V. West.

4. The Thief from Dungeon Crawl Classics has a scaling bonus to the skills and the add to the d20 roll vs. DC.

5. Delving Deeper is actually becoming one of my favorite printed options. The Thief succeeds on all related skills with a 3 in 6 change which means anything 3+ on a d6 is considered a success. This skill does not increase but the class starts out really good at skullduggery and then at higher levels there is still a chance of failure to keeps things dynamic.

Out of all the house ruled proposed alternatives to the skills I have seen or used there are a couple that win the Gold Medal and are extremely viable and even clever.

Option 1*: Use the Ability Check method (which is d20 roll under relative ability and I happen to love this mechanic in general) with advantage. Then at each level (even the first) you get to choose a skill and that skill gets a +1 bonus (so when that specific skill is used the ability in question is considered one point higher for the purpose of the roll). Thieves also begin play with a +4 in Climb Walls because even the original Thief was so good at this. This makes up for the fact that attributes do not increase in these games.

* This is the one I have historically used the most.

Option 2*: For a more modern take (the theory of proficiency), you roll a d20 + ability modifier + Level vs. a DC 15. This is a static DC and is not meant to be modified. Thieves receive an innate bonus of +10 to the Climb Walls checks as they are amazing at that right out of the box.

* I have not used this method yet but I think it is smooth and would really well. 

As for the squishyness of the Thief, the alternate is really simple. Just increase their hit die to d6/d8. Then you can use whatever house rules you want in regards to bonus hp and/or max HD at first level. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Dog Days: Session 4

Quick Disclaimer: The player who played the ferret Disaster from Session 3 dropped out of the game. 

When we last left our party, the meeting with the senator was set up at his warehouse with the Captain and the Captain was in full knowledge of the situation. 

The party arrived at the warehouse with the Capt. of the Guard in addition to some of his men with him and others to arrive for an ambush if needed. During the meeting with the Senator the Capt. explained that he know that the Senator was in league with the Governor and that he does not trust the Senator to take him into custody to prove his innocence. As who loyalties are where were trying to be discovered in a very tense situation (especially with trigger happy Roger) a brown rat dressed in a blue robe with gold stars on it and carrying a staff seems to appear of out nowhere explaining that he lost is precious jerboa Bobo (there were lots of gerbiling jokes made throughout the night) and asked if anyone has seen him. 

 As many questions are asked around trying to figure out who the hell this person is and if they were betrayed Thorin and Ghost hear noises of combat outside and watch the senator escape to his trap door with his guards. Thorin and Ghost inform the rest of the party what is going on and charge out of the door to discover the Capt.'s men mortally engaged in combat with the Governors soldiers. It is wondered by everyone who the Governor knew they were there. As the party enters the fray it does not look like it is going to end well. Various crossbow bolts, spells, and sword swings miss their targets as Thorin and Ghost take some mighty blows the draws blood. The tide soon turns with the help of the Thane's banging story telling skills which helps the party slaughter most of the Governors men and a final splash of acid to the face of the Sgt. after watching his fellow soldier next to him slip and take two swords to the chest was to much. The  Sgt. throws down his spear and orders a surrounded to his remaining troops. As one of the Governors catches a nasty sword cut to his back fleeing, Roger holds his pistol the the Sgt.'s head and asks him how he knew they were here. The Sgt. replies that the Governors men have spies all over the city and it was only a matter of time before the found the Capt. and who was helping them. Roger then states that is all he needs to know and pulls the trigger...During the lull in the chaos introductions are made and the party realizes that the Rat wizards strongly dislikes the status quo and helped them during the fight...

Now introducing the rat wizard Felcher, who grew up in Dogma and studied magic at one of the most run down and scorned magic schools and has a hatred for the status quo.

Shortly after this incident the part is approached by a beggar jingling some coin in his hat and says it is not safe here, the Governor has sent in the Calvary and numerous reinforcements will be here soon. The beggar also states that the Upright Man (who is the Thief Guild Master of the entire Triumvirate) wishes to meet with us. The party quickly decides that this is really the only option they have and they could use some help. The beggar leads them down a maze of alleyways to a dead in where the rat taps a pattern on the wall and part of the wall opens into another alleyway. The party was led through another maze of alleyways and finally to a waiting carriage with another rat smoking a pipe and everyone entered the carriage. During what seemed like the never ending ride some philosophical conversation is made and it is learned that the Upright Man is a hero among the poor people and especially in the slums. He only steals from the middle class and rich and does what he can to help protect the poor because no one else will. 

The carriage ride finally stops and as the party exists they find themselves in a large room with various other members of the thieves guild around. The party is instructed that to speak to the Upright Man they must leave all weapons behind and after the party disarms they are padded down and they find the dagger Thane tried to hide. The party is then led through a few doors and into a pitch black room that as soon as the last person crosses the threshold the doors slam shut and the hear it lock. A voice then appears to be all around them and introduces himself as the Upright Man and he explains that the Capt. is under arrest - not for the crimes of the ferrets (for that is reason alone to hang him) but for the crimes against the poor of the city. The Upright Man goes on to explain that the Capt. has failed to protect his people and has even facilitated various transgressions. After some back and forth conversation the Upright Man promises a fair trail for the Capt. as he is just and decisions are not pre-decided like the mockery of the courts of the nobles. Due to the parties actions, the Upright Man finds us trustworthy and he appreciates our treatment of the beggars, and he goes on to inform us that the Governor has hired a cat by the name of Sylvester to hunt us down. The very name sends chills through the party and Sylvester is known only by legend, the most blood thirsty assassin to every walk the lands. In hunting is prey, Sylvester will not only kill is mark, but people that come into contact with his mark as well (even if it is a chance meeting). The Upright man says he will give us aid to leaves the city and as long as we are in areas of his power, we can find help. 

 The party is quickly ushered out of the room and retrieve their equipment. During this time, one of the guild members gives them 1,000 guild pieces to split among themselves and a single copper coin that one side depicts a man with a very obvious broken back and the other a very tall man walking upright. The guild member then instructs us that we must show this corn to prove our loyalty to the guild but are also warned to not overreach or overstay our welcome. The party loads back up in the carriage and we are dropped off outside of the south side of the city. 

After some discussion, the party decides that we will head south into the woods (staying off roads and paths) then turn north to head towards Ratatia and Dogma as Thorin explains that he has some friends in the slums the might help.

Days upon days of travel bring nothing of interested until one morning Thorin notices smoke rising above the trees.  Thorin then whispers to the party and points to the smoke. It is quickly decided that Thane should go and scout it out and in an amazing vanishing act (a really obscene stealth check) Thane is able to scout out the area and finds that there is a small clearing with a mud out and no one else around. Upon Thane's return it is decided that everyone will approach the hut and upon entering the hut they find an impossibly old ferret with blind eyes and before a real conversation can start Felcher does not waste anytime offending the old ferret woman in ways that even man Roger look at him with disgust (this is a true feat) as everyone else shook their heads and muttered under their breath. It took some quick wit of Thane to recover the situation and we learned in a very cryptic way that danger is following us and the old ferret went on to explain that one of us will find no friends in Dogma except a few in the slums (but even that is a gamble) as the situation has worsened since one of the party members have left. This causes some side way glaces but nothing more. The party decides to leave the old woman alone even though Felcher tries convince the rest of the party to rob her. 

Many more days of travel ensue until the woods give way to grasslands and upon entering the grasslands the party spots some deer and as they are discussing if they should kill one to eat one a group of the chickens ambush two of the deer and start tearing into it. 

The party is spotted by the lead chicken which rears up and does a few fake charges at the party to try to intimidate us. As the party backs away very slowly it is discussed that young chickens can be domesticated as mounts and Thane breaks away (with another obscene stealth roll) to try to find their tracks so the party can find their nests. Roger follows Thane's efforts but the chickens catch their scent even though they could not see Thane or Roger and after some communication between the chickens they take rip off large chunks of meat and take off as Roger and Thane barely avoid them. It is quickly decided after that that it would be unwise to fight an unknown number of chickens actively protecting their nest and the party travels on. 

Another string of uneventful traveling (to the DM's dismay I am sure) leads to the discovery of small village and after a quick scouting mission it is determined that everyone will enter the village, resupply, gather intelligence, and hopefully a nights rest. After learning that an actual town is only 4 days travel away the party is charged for rations at a ridiculous mark up because winter is coming and offered a place to sleep at their supplies of rations house for the night but they have to sleep on the floor. During the dinner that their hosts provided they learn that the people hear rarely get any information regarding anywhere else unless someone comes through to trade or one of the villagers has no other choice then to make a long trip to one of cities or towns. The party also learns that recently a Warden of the Spine has came down from the mountains to trade and shared tales of strange magics and stranger beasts roaming the lands. 

After dinner the party goes to bed and sets up a watch. During Felcher's watch, he suffers a vision in the fire of a group of cats in the daylight traveling to the village and killing one of the outlaying farmers after the farmer gives the cats information regarding the party. Then Felcher wakes up the rest of the party and explains the situation. It is decided that is not safe for anyone to stay in the village and the party convinces the villagers to leave single file and head to the Warden's outpost in the Spine and the party will head in a different direction. 

This is where the session ended...

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Rules as a Player


1) I do not hoard my wow-bangs. If I die with a sheet full of magical items or spells, then I played in vain. I am not here to advance a character, I am here to make fun memories with people I enjoy spending time with. Regular battles of attrition are slightly more interesting uses of my time than a 3rd grade math pop quiz.

2) Getting somewhere depends on rudimentary time management. Pixel-bitching for 45 minutes on something that isn't going to change the curve is wasting not only your time but everyone else's. I know there are one-way doors in the game, but most of the time you can come back with better information if it seems like you're missing something, rather than OCD on not-immediately obvious Q or A.

3) I surprise the DM - I do not find the margins and color inside of them. I find the weak points not considered and blow up the best-laid plans of my adversaries like the dudes walking away with their backs to the explosion. I am not concerned about dramatic tension; I am looking to dominate, bypass, confound, and neutralize. Moments of sheer panic will happen regardless but my goal is to have none.

4) Help other players have big moments - I know I'm a strong personality who will end up in a caller-like role whether consciously or unconsciously. So if leading a party, be a leader-servant. When other players are all looking at each other unsure of what to do, break the silence. When other players have an idea, help them make it happen. When you see a way for them to shine that they don't - put them in that position and try your damnedest to make everyone the party's X factor from time to time. When you all get together over beers afterwards, no one wants to hear stories about one person's character.

5) Spend your damn money - buy information, rumors, contacts, hidey-holes, strongholds (name-level or not), small armies of mercs, church support, adoration from the masses, and anything and everything else that gives your DM a lever to move your world. Whenever I look at a player's character sheet - presuming they have all of the basic game necessities met (training, maintenance, whatever) - and there's some ridiculous amount of gold scratched on there I feel like I'm sitting with a middle-manager only capable of following someone else's plan. Help them see the possibilities.

6) Have a short, medium, and long term goals that have zero to do with whatever the DM is cooking up - tying in with the above, adventure seeds are great - I'm always hunting for this stuff. But surely you know something you want to do that's intrinsic to yourself. Are you a fighter that wants a magic sword? Don't pine for it, drop out-of-game hints, or anything else. Start hunting for it; make it known within the world what you seek (at least to those who might point you in that direction). If you're a thief - make contacts way before you're thinking of setting up a guild in a few levels. Look for one ripe for takeover. Cleric? Where doth the church need extending its reach? Etc.

7) Contribute to the game world - make custom spells, items, and prayers. If you're a fighter, don't just found a stronghold - find a good natural harbor and start a new city.

8) Pay attention - be ready to roll. Don't be the guy saying "huh" every time. Speak up. Move things along. Write down stuff.

9) Be versatile - every time I see a player whine because they had a specific idea for a character in mind and must have that or their time isn't fun, I get flashbacks to every high-maintenance girl I've ever stupidly dated anyway. The warning signs are always there early, and they always come true.

10) There is no arc - embrace setbacks. This is not a novel. At this point there's nothing more boring than saving the world except a nice steady progress from week to week where my character consistently waxes in power. I don't invest in the bond market, and I'm not looking to play D&D to meter my progress through the level names. You're not really winning at D&D if you never lose. Gamble. Take big risks with the equivalent of monopoly money. If you're a character-driven roleplayer, seek the admiration that comes from a populace that sees your character rise from the ashes to become even better than before the tumble. Laughing off real adversity is the role most D&D characters should be playing, not the guy who always hits their scratch off ticket for $1 more than it cost.

This is reposted from EOTB's blog (with permission) regarding his personal rules as a player. I felt like these were pure genius and I wish more players would adopt these rules.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Review: Cha'alt

I was very intrigued about this when it was on kickstarter but I was unable to participate when it was live. I acquired the pdf the first chance I got and Venger Satanis sent me a physical copy for review purposes. 

In Venger's own words, "The world of Cha'alt started as a fairly typical medieval land with elves, dwarves, snake-men, clerics, and magic-users; steeped in superstition along with antediluvian traditions, before the Old Gods went mad.  

Three-thousand years passed. The surface dwellers split from the malevolent creatures who slithered below. Those who remained on the surface lost the understanding of magic, but their civilization became a highly developed, technological empire of domed cities welcoming interstellar travelers, their massive starships hovering high above in blue skies.

But in the deep crevasses of the world, a power older than time stirred from its deathless slumber. The Ancient Gods, long forgot, had not died but continued to dream... growing chaotic and full of darkness.  And those living underground hastened the Old Ones' rising because they yearned to reclaim Cha'alt for themselves.

When the Great Old Ones awakened, they were angered by the lack of worship, sacrifices, or even casual acknowledgement that they had fashioned the world and all life upon it. 
Soon enough, Cha'alt was all but destroyed by those vengeful Gods, jealous of their creations' achievements and bitter that they had been forgotten.  Civilization in ruins, the surface-dwellers of Cha'alt turned to barbarism as sorcery reappeared, dragons appeared in the now-magenta sky, and demons took hold once more.

Cha'alt is a mysterious world where you're likely to encounter mutant bikers with laser rifles, tentacled sandworms in the deep desert, tribal warfare as blood-splotched shamans ululate at the crimson rock, and alien pirates on anti-grav skiffs looking to steal relics of a bygone age."

This is just the tip of the iceberg. It has so much more potential then just being a campaign setting. It can be used as a location to to send players and one could easily drop any location, monster, NPC, dungeon room, or factions into any other campaign little to no effort. There is enough setting information to give game masters a solid footing in the world but there is wiggle room to make Cha'alt a sandbox world of your own. 

The above map shows twelve locations one can visit. Each location is given some information but four places places are given a lot more detail. The locations that are focused is the City of Kra'adumek, the ruins beneath Kra'adumek, the frozen Violet Demon-Worm, Gamma Ineel Cantina, and the Black Pyramyd. 

The city of Kra'adumek is given descriptions but there are no NPCs, maps, or specific plot hooks. 

The Ruins beneath Kra'adumek is an introductory dungeon that is also doubles as an introduction to the setting. There are multiple ways characters can end up there and it starts the party right in a dungeon. I personally love this idea and I have used this technique multiple times. 

The frozen Violet-Demon Worm is a giant worm that is frozen outside of Kra'adumek. No one knows the if the worm is actually dead. The worm itself is a location that characters can explore and inside of the worm is a mini mega Dungeon in it's own. Inside the belly of the worm there are encounters like a family that took shelter and the wife is about to give birth and an almost intact pirate ship.

Ah, the Black Pyramid. This is the heart of Cha'alt and is a Mega Dungeon that spans pages 81 to 199. This thing is stuffed full of encounters like a madman in a playhouse, a tiki bar, and a giant frozen peach with ape men. 

Presentation: I have to saw that I am completely blown away by the physical presentation of Cha'alt. It is a 211 FULL COLOR paged, dust jacketed, hardback tome that should live on your coffee table. Under the dust jacket is a reddish brown cover that has a burlap texture with gold inlay. The pages are thick and edge to edge full color (not just the art). The images inside the book is a mix of fantasy/sci-fi, live action, and abstract images that are probably from the lucid dreams of H.P. Lovecraft himself. 


Character Creation: It is designed basically OSR system agnostic which means you could easily plug in your OSR system of choice with it. Though, with that being said Cha'alt is designed using Crimson Dragon Slayer d20 (these rules are included in the back of the book) which is Venger Satanis's own rules light hack with a DnD 5th Edition flare. Character creation boils down to choosing a name, race, class (there are 4), alignment (law, chaos, neutral), and writing down something noteworthy about your character.

Resolution System: If you use the included Crimson Dragon slayer then the dice mechanics are d20 vs. Target number or Armor Class. Anything that needs to be determined outside of roleplay it is vs. a DC of 15 but the player adds their character level to the roll. Saves are 20 - character level and must roll that number or better to succeed. The advantage/disadvantage mechanic is used instead of numeric modifiers.

Crunch: There is none. 

Final Thoughts: This is what happens when H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Ray Bradbury, Manly Wade Wellman, and Frank Herbert all drop acid and play Gamma World. Cha'alt has aspects of Dune, Gamma World, gonzo fantasy ala Warhammer Fantasy, and just about anything from Weird Tales. They way it is written you could tone down or crank up the gonzo, the sci-fi, or the fantasy aspects. Even if any if these aspects do not fit your taste or gaming style it is worth getting your hands for inspiration and mining for ideas. 

My favorite thing about this is that all of the encounters and designed where things, people, and monsters have their own motivations and are going about their business in addition to whatever the encounter with the party brings. This creates role play rich opportunities and gets ride of the kill everything and ask questions later mentality. To be honest, combat is not always the wise or best option in the harsh sands of Cha'alt. 

You can acquire this Tome of Maddening Awesomeness here:

Additional Resources:

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Dog Days: Other Races

Wolves: +2 Str, +2 Wis, -2 Cha Size Medium; Cornered Fury (4 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Whenever a member of this race is reduced to half its hit points or fewer and has no conscious ally within 30 feet, it gains a +2 racial bonus on melee attack rolls and to Armor Class. Low-Light Vision (1 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race can see twice as far as a race with normal vision in conditions of dim light. Scent (4 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race gain the scent ability (Bestiary 304). Fast (1 RP): Prerequisite: Normal speed; Benefit: Members of this race gain a +10 foot bonus to their base speed.

Wolf Languages: Woofish and Howler

Working Felae: +2 Dex; +2 Int; -2 Con: Cat’s Luck (1 RP): Prerequisite: The race has at least a +2 racial bonus to Dexterity; Benefit: Members of this race gain the following extraordinary ability: Once per day, when a member of this race makes a Reflex saving throw, it can roll  the saving throw twice and take the better result. It must decide to use this ability before attempting the saving throw. Silent Hunter (2 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race reduce the penalty for using Stealth while moving by 5 and can make Stealth checks while running at a –20 penalty (this number includes the penalty reduction from this trait). Sneaky (5 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race gain a +4 racial bonus on Stealth checks. Darkvision 60 Feet (2 RP)

Luxury Felae: +2 Dex; +2 Cha; -2 Str Curiosity (4 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race are naturally inquisitive about the world around them. They gain a +4 bonus on Diplomacy checks to gather information, and Knowledge (history) and Knowledge (local) become class skills for them. If they choose a class that has either of these Knowledge  skills as class skills, they gain a +2 racial bonus on those skills instead. Nimble Faller (2 RP): Prerequisite: The race has at least a +2 racial bonus to Dexterity; Benefit: Members of this race land on their feet even when they take lethal damage from a fall. Furthermore, they gain a +1 bonus to their CMD against trip attempts. Darkvision 60 Feet (2 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race can see in the dark up to 60 feet. Beguiling Liar (2 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race gain a +4 racial bonus on Bluff checks to convince an opponent that what they are saying is true when they tell a lie.

Feral Felae: +2 Dex; +2 Wis; -2 Cha: Fearless (1 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race gain a +2 racial bonus on all saving throws against fear effects. Special: This bonus stacks with the bonus granted by the lucky (greater or lesser) racial trait. Curiosity (4 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race are naturally inquisitive about the world around them. They gain a +4 bonus on Diplomacy checks to gather information, and Knowledge (history) and Knowledge (local) become class skills for them. If they choose a class that has either of these Knowledge skills as class skills, they gain a +2 racial bonus on those skills instead. Nimble Faller (2 RP): Prerequisite: The race has at least a +2 racial bonus to Dexterity; Benefit: Members of this race land on their feet even when they take lethal damage from a fall. Furthermore, they gain a +1 bonus to their CMD against trip attempts. Stalker (1 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Perception and Stealth are always class skills for members of this race. Darkvision 60 Feet (2 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race can see in the dark up to 60 feet.

Cat Languages: Meowan and Br'rt

Brown Rat: Use ratfolk but not slow, and without Skill Bonus Craft Alchemy, and Skill Bonus Use Magic Device, but also with Swim (2 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race have a swim speed of 30 feet and gain the +8 racial bonus on Swim checks that a swim speed normally grants, and Lightning Reflexes as a bonus feat.

Black Rat: +4 Dex, -2 Str, -2 Con, Size Small; Nimble Attacks (2 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race receive Weapon Finesse as a bonus feat. Fleet-Footed (3 RP): Prerequisite: The race has at least a +2 racial bonus to Dexterity; Benefit: Members of this race receive Run as a bonus feat and a +2 racial bonus on initiative checks. Swarming (1 or 2 RP): Prerequisite: Medium or smaller size; Benefit: Members of this race are used to living and fighting communally with other members of their race. Up to two members of this race can share the same square at the same time. If two members of this race that are occupying the same square attack the same foe, they are considered to be flanking that foe as if they were in two opposite squares. Special: If the race is Small or smaller, this trait costs 1 RP. If the race is Medium, it costs 2 RP Rodent Empathy (1 RP): Prerequisite: Ratfolk subtype; Benefit: Members of this race gain a +4 bonus on Handle Animal checks made to influence rodents Low-Light Vision (1 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race can see twice as far as a race with normal vision in conditions of dim light.

Rat/Ferret Languages: Mazian, Labratine, and Squickish

Ferret: +2 Dex, +2 Cha, -2 Wis, Size Small; Silver Tongued Members of this race gain a +2 bonus on Diplomacy and Bluff checks. In addition, when they use Diplomacy to shift a creature’s attitude, they can do so up to three steps up rather than just two. Low-Light Vision Members of this race can see twice as far as a race with normal vision in conditions of dim light. +2 bonus to Perception +2 Bonus Stealth, Gift of Tongues Members of this race gain a +1 racial bonus on Bluff and Diplomacy checks, and they learn one additional language every time they put a rank in the Linguistics skill.

Worg: +4 Str, +2 Con, -2 Dex, -4 Cha, -2 Int Size Large; Bite (2 RP): Prerequisites: Small or larger size; Benefit: Members of this race gain a natural bite attack, dealing damage equivalent to that of a creature one size categories lower than normal for their size (Bestiary 302; 1d6). The bite is a primary attack, or a secondary attack if the creature is wielding manufactured weapons. Special: This trait can be taken up to two times. The second time it is taken, the bite damage increases by one size category. Darkvision 60 Feet (2 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race can see in the dark up to 60 feet.

Worg Languages: Howler

Leopard: +2 Str, +2 Dex, -2 Cha  Size Medium; Cat’s Luck (1 RP): Prerequisite: The race has at least a +2 racial bonus to Dexterity; Benefit: Members of this race gain the following extraordinary ability: Once per day, when a member of this race makes a Reflex saving throw, it can roll the saving throw twice and take the better result. It must decide to use this ability before attempting the saving throw. Camouflage (1 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Choose a ranger favored terrain type. Members of this race gain a +4 racial bonus on Stealth checks while within that terrain type. Climb (2 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race have a climb speed of 20 feet, and gain a +8 racial bonus on Climb checks that a climb speed normally grants. Fast (3 RP): Prerequisite: Normal speed; Benefit: Members of this race gain a +20 foot bonus to their base speed. Darkvision 60 Feet (2 RP): Prerequisites: None; Benefit: Members of this race can see in the dark up to 60 feet.

Leopard Languages: Meowan and Br'rt

Note: All races were created with Pathfinder 1e race creator.