Nov 162013
 

After the fight, with a dead deserter at my feet, I remembered feeling on top of the world. Two of us had been hired on to fight, and one of us had walked away with nothing but a torn sleeve, the other a wound that required the care of Valerius. True, the New-Raphelian surprised us all, but since we knew what he was made of now, there’s was no way I was going to be leaving him on the rear cart while the rest of us fought. I was very pleased with myself though, as if I had already faced down the worst that the road had to offer us, and from there on out, it’d be smooth sailing.

I will tell you the full tale of the journey in good time, but for now lets not jump too far ahead. First, we had to decide the route we would take, and it seemed that I wasn’t the only brash young man with something to prove, as it took little time at all to decide on the quicker, more dangerous, Dummoni controlled route to get us to market nice and quick. Caderyn knew the way, and had taken it before. He assured us we would not be waylaid by his countrymen, but that we should not expect any aid from them either. Still, if we wanted to get Skuza’s goods to the market in time to set our prices, speed was of the essence and so the decision was made. Thankfully it wasn’t my job to let our massively nervous employer know that we would be journeying into the heart of the enemy, that was down to Valerius.

As a Numare, he was the only one who could talk to the boss as an equal, and Vitus seemed even happier than I was that the job was out of his hands. Valerius wasn’t exactly rushing headlong into the task though, and decided to wait until we made camp that night. On the way I allowed my curiosity to get the better of me, and began asking the Dummoni exactly what we could expect from our journey. It was a short conversation, but when someone starts talking about the caves of the dead, it tends to make people slightly more introspective. Luckily we didn’t have long to wait until we found a campsite for the night, and set about settling ourselves down.

We were lucky to find a large flat area that we could get all of the wagons onto, and keep the beasts far enough out of the way that getting trampled into the dirt as we slept was unlikely. The only things we shared our campsite with were nine standing stones. “Ah, the nine climbers”, said Caderyn, walking to each in turn. As he walked, he spoke a little blessing in Dummoni in front of each; he was quiet so I didn’t catch exactly what was said, but in front of each he stopped, kissed the tips of his fingers and then placed them against each stone. I know that this might sound strange, but as he went, he told us about the stones. “One’s a Daemon”, he began, and I immediately looked towards our Pelosian travel companions for their response.

The boss and his man were out of earshot, Valerius seemed to take it all in stride – that coupled with the warbow still about his person made me even more curious about his past life – but Vitus and the young Pelosian woman who seemed to be some kind of beast minder both looked concerned, even if only for a moment. “No one knows which one for certain”, Caderyn continued in broken Pelo-Margo, “Although there’s plenty of people with ideas, but none are better than guessing. The daemon turned himself to stone to avoid some pursuers you see, but changes his position each night in case they get too close. You can see that over the years the climbers have gotten a little bit further up the mountain.” He stopped again in front of the final stone, taking his time with this blessing, maybe knowing something we didn’t about which stone was more than it appeared, “Maybe once they get to the top, he’ll feel safe and turn back into his Daemon form.”

I fear no daemon more than I do a man. True, some have powers that can shake the foundation of the mortal realm, but I’ve heard stories of men and women able to do the same, so I say take each person as they are, and you won’t go too far wrong. The Pelosians, by their cultural upbringing have different views, and I took some small pleasure watching their faces throughout this. Thank the Gods that Skuza wasn’t able to hear all this though; he was a damned nervous fellow at the best of times, and I can’t imagine it would have aided his nerves to know how close he was to bedding down in a Daemon’s shadow.

Before that though, he needed to get himself and his carriage clean. I couldn’t give two half hearted tugs about how clean he was, but I felt a touch of responsibility about the carriage, having had a hand in the blood spurt that flew through his window. Being the nice chap I am I offered to help his man out in bringing buckets of water up from the river to clean and cook with, and when we got back, a few had wandered off to bring some fresh meat back for supper. This meant my kindly demeanour was once again taken advantage of as I helped drag a huge and heavy bath from out of Skuza’s carriage. Ornate and preposterous are the two words that come to mind when I think back on it, with finely detailed daemon feet to raise it from the ground, it would probably fetch more than I hoped to make from this trip if sold to someone with taste to match Skuza’s.

This seemed to calm him down as he hid behind a screen to protect his modesty and soaked his tiny balls while the rest of us cooked and ate the game that had been killed for us. Valerius had put his unpleasant task off for long enough though, and once Skuza was dried down and powdered, he joined us around the fire. Well, near the fire anyway, and they began talking in Pelosian. I knew the other Pelosians would be able to tell what was being said, and the rest could maybe guess at a word or two as they could just about get by in the broken tongue of  Pelo-Margo, but I somewhat gave away my own fluency as the conversation progressed. “Maybe we should go back”, Skuza began; the sentence that was fast becoming his catchphrase, but on this occasion I can’t remember exactly what his piffling reason was.

“No my lord, we must continue, and make good time doing so if we are to be first to market”, countered Valerius, laying the ground work well, “and that means going south of the river”. The splutter of relaxing tea that sprayed from the boss’s mouth almost drenched Valerius, but he continued with barely a pause. “We will make better time by avoiding the bureaucracy we would encounter by staying on the Pelosian roads and going through the settlements. We are both Numare and as such must be counted and tallied. By going through Dummoni lands, we avoid all that, and have a shorter route too”.

“But Valerius, we will be killed and eaten by the savages once they know who we are!”, he exclaimed, continuing to waffle on about correctly notarized paperwork and heathens with barely a break to suck in some air.

“My lord, we will ensure the best prices by taking this quicker route, and when you return home, with your fortune restored, your eligibility when looking for a Serra Skuza will be greatly increased when you have stories of bravery and derring-do to regale them with”. With hindsight, I could certainly have picked a more opportune moment to take a mouthful of warm tea, but how was I to know the gem that was about to spill from the nobleman’s lips.

“You are correct of course my friend, and I have always thought of myself as being something of an adventurer.” Well, with that I was lucky to stop myself from spraying The new Raphelian – Brand, as I had taken to calling him – with my own beverage, but instead managed to turn it into little more than a loud exclamation of laughter, quickly hidden by a coughing fit as I struggled to keep myself from laughing further. The Gods bless the little man though, as he was quick to suggest that Valerius come to my aid. I was just as quick to protest, and claim the matter was far from serious, and I think the doctor understood what had happened as he was happy to leave me be.

I drowned the rest of the conversation out to save myself from paroxysms of laughter, but I gathered that by the end, Valerius had done his job well, and tomorrow we would brave the caves of the dead. We still had a night in the wilds to survive though, so watches were posted, and I crawled under my blanket to try and get some sleep.

It didn’t seem like I was out for long before the night air was torn apart by a feminine scream. I was quick to find my find my feet, and was drawing my steels as I spotted Drazar come flying backwards from Skuza’s carriage, propelled by the vraag that had pounced on him. Whoever was supposed to be on watch had obviously let their concentration slip to allow the beast access to the boss’s inner sanctum, but since one of those people was Drazar, it looked like he was already getting his comeuppance. As I got to my feet, steels in hand, it looked touch and go for the masked man; he had obviously cast some form of magic to try and dislodge the creature, but it had done little than cut its flesh somewhat and anger it even more. As I watched it snapped its jaws towards Drazar, drawing blood before I could do anything to stop it.

There was no way it was getting a second chance though, and with my head down and Basaedo held at my waist pointing forward I charged towards it as fast as I was able, and thrust the sword directly into the thing’s side. I felt the point break flesh, and thought I had inflicted a killing wound. But the vraag had faster instincts than I had expected and was rolling with blow almost as soon as it had landed. My sword may not have killed the creature, but it bit deep and forced it away from Drazar. I had heard horror stories about the ‘summer’ vraag though; male beasts, either old enough to have been forced out by a younger pup, or a young pup that had failed to secure its place at the head of the pack, both of which would be desperate and hungry enough to attack without its pack as support. Expecting the worst, I dropped back into a defensive posture, waiting for its next move.

I didn’t have long to wait though, as coming up on my left was Caderyn, axe in hand and swinging it hard down towards the body of the beast. Once more though it moved quicker than expected and the blow took it in a hind leg, the crack echoing around the rocks, sounding louder than the whelp of pain. The vaarg was still moving but going slowly now, whimpering rather than growling. That wasn’t to say it couldn’t still pose a threat, and putting it out of its misery could be considered a mercy so I stepped forward aiming to finish it off, the final strike finally putting it down.

Drazar was badly cut, but used his own magics to clean and seal the wound before I could even offer a medicinal rune to help him out. In the distance we could all here the baying of other vraags. It mustn’t have been a lone creature, but it seemed like the rest of its pack wanted nothing to do with attacking us, and were withdrawing. I wasn’t convinced they wouldn’t return though, so stoked up the fire before getting myself comfortable once more. Brand seemed happy taking what he could get from the vraag’s corpse, but everyone else looked ready to get straight back to sleep. Skuza would need some help though, and once more he was adamant that we turn around and retreat home, coming back with trained hunters to clear the way. A stupid idea of course, and luckily Valerius was once more on hand to calm him down and give him something to help him sleep. The herbal tea he offered was potent stuff indeed, as Skuza was still protesting, claiming the danger of the road was too much, and that come the morning we would turn around as he fell into a deep sleep.

*     *     *

My own watch, several hours later, went fine. No wild animals, no daemons shifting stones, just time spent relearning the runes I thought I might need for the next day. Caderyn had asked me to wake him early as he had preparations to make himself, and Brand was on the morning watch with me, as he had something he needed to take care of come the dawn. I’d heard about this, knew what was coming, and decided to hold off on rousing the Dummoni, allowing him a wake up call the everyone had better quickly get used to. You see, the folk of New Raphelia have their own way of keeping dark forces at bay.

Every morning, they greet the dawn with a screaming bellow, dancing naked – or damned near it –  shaking whatever they have to hand in an effort to scare away anything unpleasant that could have dared to creep up on them during the darkest hours. I couldn’t comment on how the daemons react to this hellish noise – none of the stones seemed to be at all put out by it – but it scares the living shit out anyone not prepared for it. By now, you could probably imagine just how the boss reacted, throwing open his window – barred from the inside after the vraag attack – and expecting hell on earth to have surrounded our campsite. Valerius seemed almost as put out as everyone else after the noise, so it fell to me to calm him down on this occasion. Luckily my Pelosian is pretty strong, even if I was unable to read and write it at the time. “Fear not the daemons my Lord”, says I, ” the New Raphelian is doing his damnedest to keep them at bay from the rest of us. It is a religious observance, carried out each morning to keep us all safe through the day from Daemonic influences.”

“Ah, yes. I see now”, Skuza lied, “should we all join in? A concerted effort if you will, to  drive away the foul creatures?”

“Best not my Lord. He’s a priest of his people, and knows the correct mannerism to be fully effective. Interrupting him, joining in even, no matter the intent could derail all his hard work. Best leave him to it, and just be thankful we have him on this journey.”

“Of course, of course.”, he nodded vigorously, before turning to Vitus, and whispering loud enough for the whole camp to hear continued, “We really must make an effort to convert him before the end of the trip.”, before ducking back into his little nest. Vitus barely had it in him to nod in agreement, but breakfast and a warming drink were already on the go, and I was happy to get back to shaving. Caderyn’s preparations differed somewhat from my own though. As we were eating, he was painting his body. The front side white, the rear black, and his face to mimic a crow. It was how the tribe who guarded the caves of the dead presented themselves, and he was obviously looking to fit in.

We were soon on our way again though, with the freshly painted Caderyn taking the lead, with me out front, but sticking close to the wagons as he moved quickly out of sight ahead of us. We’d moved Brand to the front cart, and Skuza’s home on wheels was between that and the rear cart, hoping to keep him out of trouble. After an hour or so on the road, I realised we were getting close to the two faced Corbie tribe. The birds they so idealised were in evidence, if not currently present. The entire valley floor was inches deep in shit and feathers drifted around our legs on the wind. A couple of corners later, and there was the tribe; on the cliff tops overlooking us, perfectly arranged to drop rocks from above, crushing us before we could even move. Luckily that didn’t seem to be their intention, as Caderyn had arrived ahead of us and told them what to expect.

We were expecting a challenge of some kind before we were allowed access to the caves, but since the manner of the test changed depending on who was taking it, we had no idea what to expect. The Corbie didn’t seem to want to hold up our journey for long though, and offered a simple test. We would send forth a champion who was to take a feather from a man of their own. He was a big chap though, tough looking, with just as much muscle on him as fat, and when he slid down the steep incline to step into the challenge circle, he was so light on his feet it looked as if he was gliding down on the feathers that adorned him.

Looking around at our fellows, the only one who looked his match for pure size and strength – not to mention body colour – was Caderyn. He was far from keen, but knew we had few other choices open to us, so stepped into the circle. The contest was far from evenly matched, with the Corbie’s size and dexterity more than a match for our man. He tried though, using trickery and feints to hopefully put the bigger man off his stride, but he had an answer for everything. Before long Caderyn was on the ground, and the wrestler was stamping hard onto his crotch. Our collective groan was easily drowned out by the cheers of the Corbie, but their man seemed unwilling to inflict further punishment on ours. After a brief exchange with the one who seemed to be in charge – and also high as a kite, if I’m any judge – a feather was taken from his headdress and handed to the still prostrate Caderyn. “You could have just asked for it”, the wrestler informed him as he was helped to his feet.

We had already answered their question, “Challenge, hearth, or passage?”, with passage, and with the fun of the show well and truly over, most of the Corbie seemed less interested in us, and drifted away from view as we were shown towards the entrance to the caves.

*     *     *

Caderyn had told us some of what to expect, that we would be entering a place where the barriers between this world and the next were worn thin. This could give easier access to our world for any manner of beings, be they Daemon blooded or those who were once living and breathing humans. On the road already I had added two the tally of possibly restless dead that could be on my trail, so I was stepping carefully to say the least. Once more Caderyn and I were at the front, and Vitus had passed me a small flaming torch to help light the way. Natural light was in short supply, with occasional glowing fungus, self illuminating crystals and even occasional light wells from above.

Sat in the centre of one such light well was what looked to be a half dead and rotting tree stump, surrounded by Corbie. At first they seemed to be standing and sitting in silent contemplation of the stump, but every once in a while, one would step forward and silently push his arm into a hole in the stump. With more to concern us, I never bothered to ask Caderyn the significance of the act, but once their arm had been in for a few moments, it was withdrawn and the next tribesman would take his turn. With a shake of my head I turned away as we approached a fork in the road. There were many markings around the fork, some at least I recognised as being Dummoni, but I had no clue how to read the language so left the decision making up to our guide.

There were several such choices along the way, and unfortunately, we didn’t always pick the best option. On one such occasion, it was only after we had already moved the front cart passed the fork that the error was spotted by Valerius. Once more his familiarity with all things Dummoni had paid off, as he was able to decipher the runic markings on the walls, and insisted that we pull back and take the other route. Easier said than done, with few of us able to handle the hormorn with much skill, but we did eventually manage it.

I had other things to occupy me though. Occasionally as we had stalked the caves, grasping limbs had reached out from holes in the cavern walls, and a generous man might just about think of them as hands with long fingers. “They ask for an offering”, Caderyn informed us, “but just how much it matters to give one has never been confirmed”. I watched them for the longest time, wondering just what they could be seeking, but imagining nothing pleasant.

“We have similar creatures at home”, came the voice of Brand, “they have a fondness for eyes”. Just about as bad as I thought then, and there was no way I was giving up one of my own with no guarantee of getting an easier passage in exchange. Brand reached into one of his many pouches and brought forth a fleshy orb, that he dropped into the waiting fingers of a nearby limb. It quickly withdrew, and the noises issuing from within reminded me of a child licking the last remnants of sweet cream from a mixing spoon. I would like to think the savage had just kept an eye from the Vaarg we had slain, as the other possibilities were not exactly pleasant to dwell on. 

With the carts almost all lined up again, I found myself alone for a moment, keeping an eye out down the passage we had elected to turn away from, just in case there was any danger to be found. Curiosity is my only excuse for what happened next, and I’m still unsure as to what other motive there could be for my actions. I must have known that it was something that should not be done as I looked about me, making sure that everyone else was otherwise engaged before I drew my razor from its leather pouch. I opened the blade up and gently drew it down my thumb, taking care to keep the wound as small as I could manage. As the blood pooled on my skin, I wiped the flat of the blade across it, smearing the dark liquid across its surface.

Reaching forward I wiped the same flat of the blade across an extended digit. It withdrew with unnatural haste, and I once again heard the greedy slobbering from within. Within a second or two, it shot out again, quicker than I had expected, and it even seemed to be reaching out further towards me, hungrily. I didn’t know if I had appeased it, or given the hidden creature a taste for something very precious to me; only time would tell. I slipped the straight razor away again and with a final look towards the rest cast a small rune to seal the wound clean hopefully avoiding questions about it.

I quickly rejoined the rest of the party, and retook my position at the front and we soon approached another fork. This one presented us with a an interesting problem, as from one side we could clearly hear the sounds of a woman crying out. My first instinct was to rush to her aid, but thankfully calmer heads prevailed. Many were expecting a trap, and based on what else we saw in those damnable caves, I was very glad we turned away from her sobs and continued on our way.

Nov 112013
 

The Marvel Comics way that I’m referring to is in fact pretty old news at this point, but in how it pertains to the way campaign worlds can be managed, I think it still has some relevance. You see, way back in the dim and distant, DC comics was an unstoppable juggernaut, crushing everything in their path, but they would tell stories about their main stable of characters in a way that would seem odd today. The Batman who appeared in Detective Comics, for instance, was not the same Batman who was in the Justice League, or who joined forces with Superman in the Brave and the Bold. Each comic book line was in fact  self contained universe, with no need for anyone who wanted to read them to have to pick up a bunch of ancillary comic books to get the full story.

Then Marvel comes along, and decides to do things a bit different. First, they did away with the idea of fictional cities as homes for their heroes. I’m not saying that they’ve never made somewhere up, but they certainly didn’t go to the lengths of creating Metropolises and Gotham Cities, just to give a main character their own distinct playground. They set their stories in the real world, mainly new York, and this gave the readers something they could recognise. It’s true that Gotham is a distinctive city to the legions of Bat-fans out there, but not so much as the New York skyline is.

This is part of one of my idea; don’t worry too much about making up towns and cities if you’re setting your game in the real world, either historically, contemporaneously or even in the future. When it comes to the past, there are countless online and real world resources out there to flesh out a city that actually exists, and although the research time will need to be spent, it will be probably be quicker than making an entire working city from scratch. At least in my experience. Your players can also do their own research, and although you may have had to change a few details to make your plot work, it will give them the chance to get under the skin of your setting a lot more than they could do if it only exists in your head.

The second thing they did differently, and this eventually had an impact on DC, and lead to them running the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline, was that all of their heroes, be they mutants, superheroes, or masked vigilantes, all existed in the same universe. This meant that Spiderman could tangle with the Punisher, and the X-men, if you wanted to get totally crazy, could battle the Avengers. Although this spawned one of comic book’s greatest travesties – the multi-comic title crossover event – it meant that consequences could be felt throughout the entire marvel universe, because of the actions of one hero/villain.

I know that most of the awesome GMs out there on blogs and forums already have a pretty good handle on the way that consequences of actions should affect the game world, and the characters within in, but I thought I’d try and go a bit further with that today. Like at least a few others out there, I have a couple of favourite settings that I keep going back to. One of which I am revisiting for the first time in many years the next time I GM, and the other is a lovely little Neo-Victorian horror game called Unhallowed Metropolis. I’m not even sure how many campaigns I’ve ran in this world, but they all take place in the same continuity.

This means that if a group of players needs to find a fence to get rid of some stolen items in one game, then they find their fence with a simple streetwise skill check, and I get to play some kind of lovely cockney rogue for a while. Some months later, a player who has created a consulting detective character needs some info on a heist, so finds a fence he can trust. I have one ready, and can flesh out some details by having him refer to things the other party may have done. In a certain game, I went even bigger.

The plan was to run a very long campaign with a three act structure involving a serial killer, and unknown plague, some ghostly goings on, and an undead horde. It was going pretty well until a fight broke out between the player characters when they were on route to a location in them middle of the wastes with no one around for miles who would care what happened to them. There was one survivor who made his way back to Hull, but was so traumatised by the events that he was sent to an asylum. The thing was, I’d put a whole bunch of work into the adventure, and didn’t want it to go to waste.

So the employer of the first group tried again, using a different recruiting process, and about a year after the failed mission, another group set off. They succeeded – as much as they could do in the circumstances – and saw several shadows of the last attempt. the stories of a lunatic in the sanitarium screaming the name of their employer for one. And my personal favourite, finding the burnt out camp of the previous expedition, complete with rotting corpses of those that came before them.

This added a whole lot to the experience, for myself and the players, and I think if you have a game world that you love, you should try something like this yourself.

Nov 072013
 

Coming towards us out of the rain came two structures; the Toll Master’s house, and the bridge it was his duty to collect tolls from. The price wasn’t much, but I was still glad that our erstwhile employer was paying the coin per leg of those passing through. Vitus obviously expected this tax, as he had a pouch in hand before the Toll Master had even finished wheezing his demand through teeth stained with dark blood from his gums. As he started counting it out onto the rain splashed counter he activated the mechanism that began to raise the portcullis that blocked either end of the covered bridge.

The house and the bridge were of obvious Pelosian manufacture, and as such looked as if they would last through the next five ages. The Toll Master was talking in the common mish-mash of the two tongues of the Margomarissi however, and it struck me as unusual as we trudged through the wet ground onto the rain slicked stonework. From behind I heard one of my companions raise some kind of fuss. The Medic with the mask who spoke in sibilant tones was shouting about seeing someone off the side of the road, and Vitus turned his tether to investigate cantering away behind us. I was already uneasy, and this had me on edge. I looked through the rain towards the guards on the opposite side and started to notice things that made my hair stand on end.

Sure, they were dressed in the accouterments of the Pelosian legions, but it didn’t look right, even through the drizzle. I turned quickly to my right as I sensed more than saw some movement; a bedraggled man with soaking hair and rags was lumbering towards me with what looked to be a wood-chopping axe as he screamed out a guttural noise. I had no weapon to hand and if it wasn’t for my instincts I would certainly have been struck by his wild swing. To my left I heard the sound of metal striking wood and realised that my Dummoni compatriot was being assailed himself. Whether he was quick enough to throw his shield in front of the axe, or was just lucky enough to be fighting against an unskilled peasant, I was glad he had come out of the first encounter well, but immediately I had other things on my mind.

On the bridge ahead, even with the continuing deluge, I could tell that the Legionnaires had drawn and were attempting to aim stock bows at us. I can only imagine they had never used such weapons in the past as they had refused to drop their shields, and were struggling to bring them to bear. I had few options open to me as I drew my steels, but by using some fancy footwork I managed to get my attacker between the Pelosians and myself, offering me some cover if they were lucky enough to get off an accurate bolt. As I was moving, a Pelosian on our side took his chance and although I never saw it, he had climbed onto the roof of Skuza’s carriage and had loosed an arrow from a Dummoni bow.

All I knew of him at the time was that he had been hired on as some kind of physician to cater to Skuza’s many maladies, and that he was known as Valerius. What the hell he was doing with a Dummoni warbow and how he had managed to become so proficient with it was surely going to be an interesting story to tell later down the road. For now though all I knew was that keeping their shields up had done our assailants a favour as I heard the distinct sound of the arrow thudding into wood. I on the other hand was doing well, and with a quick thrust forward I had pushed the point of my Baseado through the bastard’s cheek. If we had left the fight there, he would have had a dueling scar to be proud of, but he was not to be dissuaded that easily.

As my own little melee was going on, my travel companions were engaged in their own struggles. I heard little of this, and saw even less, but will do my best to fill in the details based on what they had to say for themselves once the dust, ah, sorry, mud, had settled, and what other details I can remember. First I heard the Toll Master shouting a threat as the portcullis hammered down behind us, trapping the lead four of us on the bridge, while the others were left behind, “Just give us yer money! It ain’t worth it t’ fight back”! Well, he had obviously little experience of Pelosian business men if he thought that would be enough to get us to hand over what little we had, but it turned out he was deadly serious in thinking that we were outnumbered and sure to die unless we just rolled over with our money pouches exposed. There were two youngsters on the cliff above us, dropping rocks onto us as we defended against our assailants, but worse than that a hulking Hutzlnr was also soon in the fray, swinging a sword over a foot longer than my own as he charged towards the caravans. With him came a few others, all looking as down at heel as the bugger who was trying to make firewood of me, but with the giant on their side, they must have been confident.

Our own Hutzlner was quick to shout to him, and I only know what was said because it was translated to me afterwards. “Back down or feel the wrath of a Vytch!”, she screamed, but he was not to be dissuaded. Not even when a shot from her sling struck him in the chest. Vitus took advantage of the distraction to swing his short sword at the hulking northman, but to little affect. I saw the man after everything had calmed down, and he was a monster, even compared to his kinsmen I had previously met. He was also wearing a particularly fine doublet that I wasn’t too proud to grab, holed and bloody though it was. Back to the action though, and the masked man had already redeemed himself for distracting Vitus, by calling on the earth and the plants within in to pull down the cliff side, dislodging the children from above. Valerius seemed also keen to make up for an early missed shot and was quick to loose an arrow through the portcullis into the back of one of the youngsters who had regained his feet. The other was quick to leg it, and I for one wasn’t too keen to go after him.

The Vytch, Fjorlief, must have realised that intimidation wasn’t going to be effective against her countryman, and was soon employing her arcane arts, taking him over in body and mind, but leaving his soul in there to struggle against her bewitchment, his teeth grinding as he walked towards her and dropped the fine curved blade at her feet. With that in her hand, she and Vitus went at him with vigor, and although he eventually broke free from her enthrallment, it was too late to stop the inevitable and he fell beneath their blows. The hero of the fight off the bridge though was the New-Raphelian.

He had tried to tell us his name earlier, but I have no skill at his tongue, instead he translated it for us, and I think it was something along the line of “Fire Caused by Lightening”. I had thought of him as little other than a guide, but apparently he had performed exceptionally well, tearing through the swine who were trying to drag the goods from out of the rear carriage in seconds. No one was able to stand against his onslaught, as the ground was pink with blood and rainwater wherever he trod. He even saved the masked man, who although gifted with Earth Power, was unable to turn aside a knife slash from one of the bastards who had cornered him against the side of the middle caravan.

While all this was going on, I had problems of my own to deal with. While Cadeyrn the Dummoni was handling himself with a mix of style and brutality, I had a bolt shot at me as I turned aside another axe blow with my dagger. The swine was obviously expecting to take advantage of my previous thrust, exploiting an opening in my defense that only my dagger could close. I hoped then that many others would try the same thing; the dagger was specially made for my style of fencing, with a heavier blade than one would expect, a basket hilt and reinforced pommel meant that I had no trouble parrying even his vicious attacks with a hand axe. The wound on his face didn’t seem to be slowing him down much, so I thrust forward again. This time I aimed lower, and ended the thrust with a flick, puncturing his neck and opening up the artery beneath the skin, causing a spray of blood to splash against the carriage, and through the small window on its side.

He was made of rock this man though, and looked ready to come in again, maybe in his final act ever. I stepped backwards quickly, seeing one of the Pelosians running towards us, his stock bow dropped and a short sword now in hand to match his shield. I either wasn’t quick enough, or was paying too much attention to the charging Legionnaire, but the blow just about landed, and I felt it jar against my left arm. I was very glad indeed for the armour I had picked up earlier, as it cut through it but didn’t even break skin.

If he was still on his feet, blood gushing from between his fingers, and his mate was on the way, I needed to change my tactics. I dropped back onto the ball of my rear foot, and set my steels across my chest, It still might not be enough though, so I quickly inscribed a rune in the air and flung it forward. A powerful gust of air ripped ahead of me, as if from nowhere. The bleeder was flung from his feet, and even the Pelosian was staggered onto his back foot. I decided to still play it safe though, and kept in a defensive posture until I had got a read on my new friend.

I was very grateful I had, as within a few seconds I knew he was a pretty close match in terms of skill. Normally that wouldn’t bother me, but his large shield meant he could stay behind it indefinitely, with little I could do to break his defenses. As I was contemplating my remaining runes, wondering which would allow me the chance to disarm him, Caderyn jogged towards us, his arm red from a blow he was unable to get his shield in front of. The Pelosian looked from one to the other of us, and I saw panic in his eyes. “Drop the sword”, I said in Pelosian, and was gratified to see him acquiesce. Switching to Dummoni, I turned to Caderyn, “He has surrendered to me, he is to be spared”.  He leaned forward and used the hook of his own waraxe to drag the shield free from my prisoner as we set about discussing terms.

By then, the fight was all but over, and the Toll Master had opened the portcullis once more, but refused to exit his hideaway. I knew I had little authority of the prisoner, but I found out his name, Marco, and took his blade from the ground. It was a Ferros, a Pelosian honour blade, and there was no way it was his own. The other Pelosians were quick to question him about what had happened, and although he had few answers, they did establish that he was a deserter from an actual legion. I had heard from others that punishment for desertion was death, but I was unhappy allowing anyone else to kill him. Bandit or legion man, he had fought well, and surrendered to me personally. I offered the Ferros to Skuza as a trophy, but insisted that I be allowed to carry out the punishment. I had heard how the Pelosians liked to make deserters suffer before allowing them to pass on, and he didn’t deserve that.

While he was on his knees, begging for his life, I took his shoulder firmly in hand, and leant down to whisper in his ear, “Go to your God with honour”, before pushing the point of my dagger quickly into his skull just past his spine. As he heard my words he started to struggle, and then went stiff as the dagger went in. I felt a little bad for him, but knew that at least he had died quickly at the hands of his enemy, rather than bleeding out whilst nailed to a cross.

With everyone who had engaged in the ambush either dead or fled, we took stock of their gear, taking anything of value leaving the rest to the rain. I also took the time to close up Caderyn’s wound with a simple rune, but the masked man had taken care of his own deep gash with Earth Power. It had all taken a few minutes at most, and the majority of that involved talking to Marco before I killed him. Skuza was as happy as I had seen him, covered in blood though he was – the spurt had apparently caught him full in the face as he had lain, passed out in his carriage after the fight broke out – he was pleased that we had quickly and easily fought off the bandits with barely a scratch, and no loss of his valuable cargo.

And with that, we were once more on our way…

Nov 072013
 

Combat is on my mind of late, and it’s mainly down to what I was up to on Tuesday. Our first week of playing Orbis Terrarum started a bit late as we were waiting on a couple of chaps who weren’t part of the group when we generated characters, so we dropped into the second game with a fight just about to happen. I will be doing part two of my PC diary soon, to give you a blow by blow account of my heroic exploits. For now though, lets just take a look at how the system works, and what it does well, and what it might not do quite so well.

To begin with we have initiative; each person rolls a D10 and adds their reaction modifier to the roll, to give them their place in the initiative order. The reaction modifier is calculated during char gen, and is usually a low number, probably no more than 3-4, so most of this comes down to random chance. What doesn’t is the situation when combat starts, and what the metier of the encounter is. We discussed metier briefly during the last part of the review, but it applies to more than just people, and can have a distinct bearing on the game play throughout. Since this was an ambush, it meant that most people would be taken by surprise – I never did find out what the rest of the combat’s metier was, but ambush was bad enough – unless they were used to being in combat situations.

This meant that the warriors and fighters amongst the party don’t get the surprised modifier of minus ten, and can respond regularly. Everyone else reduces their initiative by ten points, so unless they did pretty well, won’t get an action this first turn. After the first turn, they lose the surprise modifier, and if they’re back into positive numbers, get an action. Once that’s sorted, we move onto the actual fighting. Combat is a back and forth in Orbis, but still manages to maintain a simplicity of dice rolling that I appreciate. You choose the attack you wish to make and roll against the relevant skill. Different attacks are based on different attributes, and have a base in either brawl, melee, or ranged. You then specialise in a weapon, getting ranks in it, and increasing it further with advancement points.

Getting below your score with a D100 roll means you will have hit, but your opponent will certainly be trying to stop you. They have several options in how they do this, but they all work in pretty much the same way. If they have a weapon that allows it, they may attempt to parry. Usually the parry score for a weapon is half of its attack value, but can be modified based on size and after market modifications. A shield is designed to block blows though, so your score in it is equal to your parry, and your attack is halved. The other option is to dodge out of the way of the blow, which means just using your dodge skill level instead of your parry. Whichever skill you use, you apply the level in it as a negative modifier against your opponent’s attack score.

This might seem a bit complicated, but once the combat begins, it gets really easy, with a one roll being made to determine the hit, and a number against it as a modifier. If you do manage to get through your opponents defenses, you need to know where you’ve hit, and how hard. The ‘tens’ result of the attack roll gives you your level of success, and the ‘ones’ your location. The level of success is used as a modifier added to how much damage you do, and can be increased depending on how you fight. Fighting defensively for instance means you get a bonus to your passive defensive skills, but will do less damage – rolling a smaller die, and doing less per level of success – whilst fighting aggressively grants you a bonus to attack, and the chance to do more damage, but severely limits your ability to avoid being hit on the counter attack.

When all that’s done, you just roll the necessary die for damage, adding the level of success plus strength based modifiers, and apply it to your opponent. Hitting in various locations doesn’t make too much difference unless they’re armoured in certain places, but not others, or if you’ve succeeded in a critical hit. If they are wearing armour, then it all comes down to armour type versus attack type. Slashing a knife across the chest of someone wearing plate armour for instance, won’t really do much, but stabbing a rapier through someone’s mail might just hit home and cause them all kinds of problems.

So there we have the combat system in a nutshell, we’d better get to grips with the intricacies. The aim of the combat system is to make it dangerous but heroic. If you’re no match for your opponent, you will either flee, die, or be spared, but will certainly still offer a challenge to them. If you’re the one with a higher skill one opponent will be little challenge while still posing a threat, but even one more enemy could up the threat rate considerably. When fighting someone of comparable skill though, things get a bit different.

I ended up fighting two different opponents, one of whom was of lower level with poor equipment, the second was a much more equal match with a decent weapon and shield. Dispatching the first wasn’t much of an issue, although he did manage to survive one more round than I expected whilst bleeding heavily from the jugular, the second was more of an issue. The reason it’s a challenge to fight multiple opponents, is that you suffer penalties for using your passive defenses more than once a turn. Luckily I had a little bit of magic up my sleeve so I managed a distraction to stop myself from getting attacked twice in a round, but then the combat got a bit sluggish for me.

Because my opponent – Marco – had a shield and had seen me dispatch his comrade earlier, he decided to fight defensively. This meant that even if I attacked aggressively I would have next to no chance of hitting him. He was in the same boat too, which meant that for two rounds, nothing happened. On the second, I didn’t even attempt an attack as I had done the maths, and realised how risky it would be. You see, for each rank you have in an attack skill, you automatically gain a one percent chance of hitting your opponent. For me this meant three percent. What stopped me making the roll though was the chance of critical failure.

Whenever you make a skill check in Orbis, a double on the roll indicates a critical. If you pass, it’s a critical pass, and if fail, vice versa. So I ended up with a three in one hundred chance of hitting, but a 9 in 100 chance of critically failing. The GM said this was intentional as with two equal opponents, the fight should be a stalemate until a mistake is made or forced. For me though it just meant that I had nothing to do while everyone else was kicking ass. I was tempted to resort to magic again – don’t worry, I’ll get into that in a different review – but luckily one of my compatriots turned up looking like the wild eyed Celt he is, and Marco promptly saw his options were limited and surrendered.

That was the only thing that didn’t go very well based on my experience, but it was situational, and in terms of the game world and the system made perfect sense. To be honest, I had to struggle somewhat to find something negative to say about the combat system. Initiative was worked out quickly, and once everyone had got their heads around the way attack and defenses were calculated, the combat flew through several rounds over several small melees. Other people who were playing less combat efficient characters were able to bring their own abilities into play without any problems, making a big difference to how the encounter played out.

I think everyone managed to bring their personal metier into play at least once too, allowing for the character’s personality traits and background to shape the way the action played out. As well as this having an in game effect, it also made it easier for the players to bring these factors in on a role playing level too, something that doesn’t happen often in combat. The fact that there’s no separate dice rolls required to defend or determine hit location means combat flows quickly and is intuitive, with everyone picking up the essentials in just one round.

Over all, I had a damned fine time and managed to avoid getting hurt at all, even against an opponent with military training. It all felt heroic, as if we were great people doing great deeds against an evil aggressor, but also dangerous. One of my fellow players, who had earlier ripped the ground out from under two people with Earth Power, was unable to stop a teenager with a knife from slashing his chest open.

the next part of this review will either be looking at the general themes of the game and the setting, or if we get enough of it, some thoughts on the various types of magic that are found throughout Uma. Until then, why don’t you head over and check out their Kickstarter. At time of writing they were over half way to hitting their first stretch goal.

Nov 052013
 

If you’re running a game that is only likely to last a session or two, you’re probably going to get into the action pretty quickly as a matter of course. In longer term campaigns though, you have the option to take things slowly and build up the intensity as you advance the plot. This sums up pretty well how approach games, regardless of whether or not they are in a combat heavy setting, but I do also like to have at least one fight within the first session of a campaign; on occasion it has even been in the first scene.

barfight

This may seem like a bit of a contradiction, but I think there are plenty of good reasons to introduce your players to combat early on. In most RPGs, combat takes up a significant section of the rule book, regardless of how often a payer is expected to engage in it. This is because combat is usually one of the more complicated game mechanics in the rules, and where you will be rolling more dice than when compared to other encounters – if dice are involved at all that is, you could be using playing cards or tokens, but the principle remains the same.

If you’re going to be putting your characters’ lives in danger, with the most complicated bit of the rules, then it makes sense to me to drop this in nice and early, when it’s acceptable to have a small number of low level adversaries without it looking like you’re going easy on the players. Everyone will surely be expected to survive this encounter – I think we can all agree that most RPGs as they exist today have moved beyond the player versus GM paradigm, except when done in jest – and it gives the GM a chance to go through the mechanics of combat at a leisurely pace explaining the details that might get forgotten about in a more high octane combat encounter.

Also, if you’re lucky enough to be playing a very well designed system, the rules that govern combat will be very similar indeed to those used for random tests outside of it. So nice and early on in the game you get to to show them all of the ins and outs, and hopefully it will mean that they should absorb the basics of the mechanics that make up the rest of the game. In my own game I have gone to some lengths to ensure that no matter what the situation, you will be rolling the same dice, and applying them to your skill in the same manner, meaning that what is used in combat will be useful throughout the whole playing experience.

A further benefit is testing the water on who will be taking the lead in your game. This is useful for players too as they get an idea about who will most likely be calling the shots as the game moves forward. It might be a little old fashioned of thinking that gaming group needs a character to be the ‘leader’, but I have found this to be true regardless of whether it was intended or not. it’s not always one person, and it could change depending on the situation, but having someone who is prepared to make decisions that the group is expected to abide by is very useful at moving the plot along rather than letting it get bogged down by a long a circular argument about the best course of action.

Don’t get me wrong, there are games out there that thrive out his kind of role playing, and I love to see it around my table, but there should still be a point when someone has the ability to step forward and make a tough call, rather than letting the conversation do another lap of the subject without reaching a conclusion. Finding that person is easier to do if it is under a apparently stressful encounter – “apparently”, because as discussed, it’s pretty easy to keep people alive until at least the end of the first session – and doing without any idea about how they would react to harsh situations can lead to problems later down the line.

In a previous game I was playing in, one member of the party took on the leadership role from the offing, and then did everything to keep himself and the rest of us out of the action. Not always a bad thing, but since it was a military game, and we were a recon unit, it meant a lot of problems dealing with the chain of command and being able to complete our missions with the aggression we were expected to deliver. The next campaign game I will be running also has a military feel to it, and I will be dropping the players into combat from the very first moment, before even giving them too long to think about who they are or who should be in charge. It’s going to be a pretty intense baptism by fire, and I suggest you all give it a try at some point.

Nov 012013
 

“What? Two posts in one day? What madness is this?”, I imagine all of my regular readers exclaiming as they read this post. Well there’s good reason for it. Firstly, I’m on holiday so can blog a bit more until Monday, and secondly, I had such a good time with a certain project, that I have decided to run it again this year, and picked the entire month of November for it to run through.

You see, around about this time last year, I had hit a particular milestone, and decided to celebrate by doing something for anyone who had taken the time to check out my fledgling blog. I offered anyone who posted a comment a free NPC for the game of their choice.

I’m doing that again starting from today, and it’s just as simple. You don’t need to subscribe, like the Facebook page, or even follow me on Twitter. All you need to do is write up a basic idea of what type of NPC you want, and I’ll do the rest. It could be as simple as a Steampunk fighter, as detailed as a young women with engineering fluid pumping through her heart who longs to travel the galaxy while hunting for her long lost brother.

I will take whatever you have to offer and write up a prose description of said character, adding in some plot hooks and a physical description for good measure. I won’t be able to work out stats and what have you, as I cannot promise to be familiar with all systems, but I will do my research and make sure that the character makes sense in whatever game world you have in mind.

Last year I managed to get 33 NPCs done in a month, and later collated them all together and put the final product up on Drivethru for less than a buck. This time I hope to get even more, and to do that I’m going to need lots of help. So please share this post with anyone who might be interested, and if you have a blog, feel free to put the character I make for you up, with a link back here so other people can find it. I will be adding all new NPCs the original document too, so if you’ve already paid for it, you will get a whole bunch more, and if you haven’t then you there’s even more incentive.

So get to it, and let me know what you want.

Nov 012013
 

I have spent the last couple of years genuinely annoyed that I haven’t had the funds to back all of the Kickstarter projects that I wanted to, But today I popped my project backing cherry. If you want to back this campaign, click through here right now, but if you’ve never heard of the game Orbis Terrarum, stick around and I’ll tell you why I’ve pledged some hard earned money so that real hard copies of the game will see the light of day.

**Full disclaimer** I am friends with the guys who have created this game, and they’ve been working on it for at least as long as I have known them off and on. This does not mean that I’m only supporting the game because we’re friends; I have played two full length campaigns within their world as they play tested the game at our weekly gaming society meetings, and I enjoyed every second of it.

As mentioned in a previous couple of posts, I am even playing the game every Tuesday night as of last week, and I’m loving the final revisions that they’ve made. I will be continuing to detail the adventures of character as the weeks progress, but for now lets get to why I love the game so much.

The style of the game, and how it comes to life through the setting was the first thing that grabbed me. As much as I like to play games of high heroic fantasy, with orcs and dragons and what have you, I much prefer a grittier edge to my fantasy worlds. For people who have followed the blog you’ll know that when it comes to fantasy literature my two current favourite writers are Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie. Both write about fantasy worlds that have a very human feel to them, with magic being both rare and misunderstood, and the biggest threats often much more human than supernatural. Wars across borders and political maneuvering take more of a central role than world ending beasts and necromantic legions.

The guys who created the game are also fans of this style, but have a much bigger influence on their style, and that’s the work of Fritz Leiber. It runs along similar lines and anyone familiar with his work is highly encouraged to look into this game so that you can enjoy seeing the influence he clearly had.

It’s not just setting though, it’s the system as well that keeps me going back for more. As much as I like a nice simple system, what I really adore is one that has internal consistency. I know it’s a strange thing and might not be what everyone looks for, but there is something marvelous about a game that has the same rules for character generation for player characters as it does for NPCs, so that everyone is on a level playing field, at least to begin with. Add to that the magic, combat and general skill tests all work along the same lines means that there is nothing extra to learn just because you want to use some Geomancy or wield the Heart’s Fire.

I could go on at length here about the various little things within all of the above that I love, but the guys have done a great job of explaining exactly what the game is about on their project page, so if you haven’t been there yet, head over now to read all about it in their own words and then back the hell out of it! At time of writing it has been running for just over 24 hours and is already over half way there. And since the game is already complete, with layout and artwork, anyone who backs it at least the digital level will get their pdf copy as soon as it funds.

Oct 302013
 

This is the first of my weekly series of in game diaries of the character Kantrel di Gregori. These adventures are set in a game world created by a couple of friends of mine, and you can find out more information about the game and its upcoming Kickstarter campaign by heading over and checking out their Facebook page.

These stories of the beginning of my life as a duelist take place when I was but a young man, before I had bothered to better myself mentally and acquired the ability to write, so they are based on little but memories and shared stories. I will however do my best to present them as accurately as possible, with the bare minimum of hyperbole in there, just to sell myself as the hero of these tales.

By now you will know about my family background, and how mush I railed against it. You also know that I was making my way to the Margomarissi  to gain experience and coin so that when I returned, it would either be as a wealthy professional, or in a wooden box. Life does seem to get in the way though, and due to a series of errors of foresight, and not inconsiderable bad luck, I arrived as the campaign season was beginning to wind down. It had been a deathly hot summer that year and it took its toll on the combatants, meaning hostilities ceased earlier than usual, leaving me at a loose end.

I decided to supplement my income for the winter months by taking on work as body guard for anyone who had the coin and wished to slum it in the low towns with all the rest of us scum. I thought this would be dull work as there were few villains willing to take the risk against someone of my not inconsiderable height, but it turned out to be more fun that I ever imagined. She was named Toanna, or at least that’s what she told me. I think she saw in me a lot more than I ever intended, and might very well have worked out something about my breeding long before I had a chance to tell her the truth. I quickly stopped hiding such things from her th0ugh as our friendship grew into something so much more.

I never knew exactly who she was, but since I kept certain details about myself from her, I couldn’t think any less of my little Doe for her secrets. All I knew was that she was Dummoni, and from a family with money. Maybe they had gotten suspicious about our relationship, and only saw me as I meant them to – a hard up sell sword with barely a tin Parvus to my name – and moved her away before she could say goodbye. Maybe she had just grown bored of me and left? At the time though, I was young and cock-sure, and set about finding her. It took a few weeks, as these things will when you haven’t the money to bribe the right people, but eventually I found out that she had made her way to Tuthom-Pothrie.

It was a dangerous place to be with the war just wrapping up for the Autumn and before the yearly peace talks had even begun. I knew I had to find her though, regardless of the danger. My youthful vigour once again coming to the fore, along with the unshakable belief that I was indestructible, as all young men must feel at one time or an other. My luck had turned though as I easily found out about a caravan team leaving Solius-On-the-Mountain two days from then. It was too early for most of the traders to make such a risky venture, but my employer was without options.

Eduardo Skuza was a man with not an ounce of luck left to him. Once an important trader and Pelosian of note, he had lost almost everything in a very short period of time. With caravans lost to bandits, landslides or just plain vanishing, he was desperate and had just one way to return to his former glory. He would take what little he had managed to secrete away from his creditors, bundle it all into a couple of covered wagons, hire anyone foolish enough to join him in this craziness – with a promise of a share in the profit he would make – and get to Tuthom-Pothrie before any of the other traders. This would allow him to sell his wares at the price of his asking, and hopefully allow him to return to his former glory.

I was quick to accept after talking to his caravan master – a tough Pelosian known as Vitus Leale – as I understood that at least half a dozen men would be on the trip to protect his master. The following morning, as I woke with the dawn, eager to be on our way, I was to be disappointed. With the exception Vitus and myself, there was but one other trained warrior. He looked the part to be sure, with more weapons hanging off him that lice off a doxie’s bush, but just the three of us wouldn’t look enough to deter any sizable group of thugs and cut-throats. Still, if we stuck together and fought well, Caderyn – a Dummoni if the warbow slung over his shoulder was any indication – Vitus and myself might just get through it.

The others were a strange mix of of various races, including a man from New Raphelia, and hardly any of them even had a shared a common tongue with which to talk to each other. But we make do with what we have, and barring a two hour wait whilst our illustrious employer got himself bathed and powdered ready for the road, we were off in fairly good time. Sadly, the rain had started coming down hard as we were stood with  little to do but consider our genitals, and that meant I could barely see more than a dozen yards of clear space in front of the lead wagon as we made our way down the narrow cliff side path, and could hear little but the drops falling on my head and ears.

And those bandits I had been so worried about, well they obviously had seen that the weather gave them the advantage and decided to take a shot at getting our cargo away from us.

Oct 282013
 

As I prepare to start a brand new campaign, one of the things on my mind is how one goes about introducing their character to the rest of the group. I’m not concerned with where and how this meeting happens, as it is up to the GM to decide the specifics. For the record though, I really don’t mind the old faithful meeting in a tavern start to a game, there’s a reason that cliche has survived for so long.

What makes a character introduction important is that rather odd thing called a first impression. There are exceptions to this, but in most games, the time that you describe your character to the other players will be the first time you meet them. You will want to include the obvious physical description, but should you add more? It’s obvious that anyone meeting you will be able to roughly guess at your height and, unless you’re wearing heavy clothing, your build. They’ll know the colour and style of your clothing, and if you are carrying an obvious weapon, they should be able to guess at where your expertise lies should things get a little bit hairy.

Some other questions to ask yourself before starting this process is how well known your character is, and to whom. Are they a famed gladiator who has won their freedom? A safe cracker with a reputation only known to others in the trade, or  underworld gang leader who has managed to achieve a certain notoriety apart from with others who are in “the game”. Lets say for now that you’re playing a fantasy game though.

Your race will almost certainly be obvious, but your class or profession may not be, but would you want to hide it? True, being a thief is best not advertised to the general populace, but to fellow adventurers, it could be useful to let them know just how you’ll be earning your keep, and that there may be times when they have to watch your back more that if you were a straight up fighter. A magic user of any stripe should be noticeable in traditional games, but not always, and some times it’s a trick worth keeping up your sleeve.

What about your personality? Do you have a reputation around town for being a braggart or someone who is quick with their fists. Are you a Lothario or Don Juan, leaving a trail of broken hearts behind you? Are you fixer in town who is always happy to help if the price is right or a favour can be bartered?  Do you have enemies that are more powerful than you, and have they made it known that they’re willing to pay for your head before you get out of town?

So, now you have a good idea about what you’re going to divulge, but how do you do it? Even a game that takes place regularly around a table, with real dice being rolled and character sheets that are pencil on paper, there may be an element of online interaction that takes place. I have played games that have taken advantage of Obsidian Portal, but even without such a resource there are forums and G+ groups that can be used by players to share extra information or keep a track of In Character diaries and the like.

If you have such a resource, then it should be used. You can write up prose descriptions of your character’s physical description going into the kind of detail that would be problematic to do sat around the table. You can also find an appropriate image to use, or maybe even get an artistic friend to whip something up to share with everyone. The only pitfall to watch out for when introducing your character this way is keeping everything accurate when you then have to repeat stuff when you summarise to the players around the table. Don’t ever think that everyone will have read and digested your online introduction, so be prepared to fill everyone in around the table at the start of the first session.

Other than that, just have fun, and be prepared to have your character totally change by the end of the campaign.

Oct 242013
 

As some of the more astute amongst you may have realised, I haven’t been as active lately as I would like to be, with regard to engaging with people on their own blogs, pimping this one, or writing more than one article a week. There are several reasons for that, some good and some bad, and one that I hope to be able to share with you soon, however doing so prematurely would be a bit silly. This also means that I haven’t had much time to carry on with my own RPG project, Rise of the Automata. I am not giving up on any of these projects, but somethings just need to take priority at the moment.

I do however always make sure I have the time to role play at my local gaming society once a week – I am currently the President, so not turning up would be weird – and today I would like to talk about what I’m currently playing. The game is called Orbis Terrarum – or Orbis for short – and it has been a labour of love for two friends of mine far at least as long as I have known them. This will be the third time I have been lucky enough to play in one of their campaigns, and this time is especially fortuitous as the game is damned near completed, and they will be hopefully launching a Kickstarter project soon to create a hard copy of the game. The link above is to their Facebook page, and if any of the following seems interesting to you, make sure you like the page as they will be announcing all updates on their. And trust me, you’re going to want to keep an eye out for this game, as it is spectacular. Anyway, on with the review.

There are a few things about character generation in Orbis that stand out, and make you realise just how well thought out the game this. Rather than cherry pick the cool bits though, I’m going to go through the whole process for you. I do have a copy of the character generation rules, but since they are a beta copy, I am not at liberty to share them just yet.

To start with, the Orbis Master (OM) asks you to think about a few things that might define the character you want to play. This known as the metier, and is a three word description of the character summing up their most obvious personality trait, their country of birth, and the word that best describes their profession. I went for an Impetuous Raphelian Duelist. The country of your birth – or at least where you grew up – is very important in this gritty realistic fantasy game, as you will only be playing as humans. Their are beings from another plane, but they are not playable characters, and the writers have eschewed the Tolkienistic elves and dwarves that are common in other fantasy settings.

To set things off after this, with nothing more than a basic concept in mind, you roll a D20 to randomly determine the state of your life as a young person. I was pretty damned lucky in that I ended up coming from a wealthy family. Not only did this mean a bit of extra starting cash to buy gear with, but it was also a perfect fit for the back story I had in mind. Even if I had rolled something different though, I would have just made some last minute changes and moved on. A second D20 roll gives you something unusual about yourself. I have seen some pretty bad ones in my past experience of playing this game, but once again luck was on my side, and all I ended up with was being a bloody big fella. It means I’ll have a hard time sneaking around, but the word “Large” is now a permanent extra part of my metier that also gives me a few extra points of wound capacity. There is one more roll like this to make, but that comes right at the end, and for now we’re looking at what it means to be from certain places on the world of Uma.

Where you are from determines your starting options for skills, some cultural advantages, but first, the amount of dice you will roll to generate your primary attributes, of which they are seven. The player rolls a number of D20 for each attribute based on their culture, from 3-6 D20, taking the three results they prefer and adding them together, discarding the rest. This gives a pretty good balance with the stronger, hardier cultures more likely to survive their environments, and the more learned cultures more likely to thrive in a social and intellectual melting pot. These numbers are used to work out certain derived attributes, but this just comes down to maths, and although well worked out, is nothing that unusual for experienced gamers.

At this point, due to the random nature of the dice rolls, it is possible that you have a set of attributes that make your original character concept unworkable. If this is because all of your physical/mental attributes are astonishingly low, you do get a slight advantage in the form of two free talents, but if you’ve just been let down just a little, there are ways to change things later. As a quick example, due to the nature of the games’ setting, males are expected to be more physically able, and so you can instantly raise a physical attribute by five points. Females are much less likely too be pushed into such areas, so instead they can raise a mental attribute by the same amount.

Before people start making claims of sexism against the game, it is set in a cross between a medieval and Renaissance world, and it makes sense that cultural expectations would shape the lives of those who grew up surrounded by them. Plus, there is nothing negative about either bonus, as although combat does break out in this game, it is lethal enough that thinking your way around it, or applying magic to the problem is often favourable.

Once this bit’s done, we get onto skills and talents. Each character gets ten points to spend on cultural skills and talents, and then an additional ten to spend elsewhere. Each culture has a choice of ten skills, but not all of them will be relevant to each character. As an example, I was playing a duelist not a drunken sailor, so I could skip at least three of these cultural skills in favour of things that better suited me. There are also four cultural advantages, and you can buy as many of them as you want. I took two, the first giving me an advantage when dealing with other adventurers, and the second allowing me to raise my Agility attribute by a further ten points to suit my (hopefully high) skill with a sword. Each culture has one attribute that they can raise in this way, and this is a great little touch. As mentioned earlier, you could end up wanting to play a Raphelian swordsman and then roll appallingly for your Agility. Because Raphelians prize dexterity and showmanship though, it is more than likely that you have spent time in your formative years increasing your ability in such things, so get a nice boost.

The other ten points can be spent on any skills or on a few other things if you have the skills you need. Each attribute can be raised an additional ten points by spending one Talent point per attribute. This means once again that you can boost something that you were unlucky with in the early stages. You can also boost your wound capacity if you feel like your character is likely to be in life threatening situations with any kind of regularity. If it wasn’t for that fact that I also took a smattering of magic ability I would have picked up a fair few extra hit points, but there’s only so many points to go around.

Each point you put into a skill using talents gives you a rank. Each rank not only increases the score by five points – the base of each skill is equal to the attribute that makes the most sense – but the more ranks you have in each skill, the less you will need to make skill checks, and the more likely you are to critically succeed in a challenge. On top of this, you also get fifty advancement points – basically experience points – that are added to the skills of your choosing on a one-for-one basis. All this means that you have a whole bunch of control over the character that you want to play, while still having that element of chance that keeps things interesting.

After all that’s done we get onto the final touches such as height and weight, as well as money to spend on equipment. Since my family background was wealthy, I had double starting money, so actually managed to buy both a decent weapon and a bit of armour too, rather than having to choose. On one occasion in the past I ended up getting mugged right at the start of the game, and was left with nothing but some blood stained clothes. Orbis is a harsh game indeed. How did I end up getting mugged you ask? Well that’s down to one last D20 roll that follows on from my past as mentioned above. This is to determine something that has happened in the very recent past, and with my luck so far, I felt certain that a mugging would be the least of my problems. But once again, I was favoured by fortune, and my recent past involved a romantic entanglement of some kind. I never expected that, and will have to work it into my back story somehow.

So there we have it in a rather large nutshell. I did skip over a few details that aren’t worth dwelling on as anyone who has created a character for an RPG will know what the score is. There is one last thing to note though, and for me I’m 50/50 on whether or not I like it. You see, each nation has their own currency – as one would expect – and this means that buying things can get a bit complicated, as not every item is available in every country, and the prices vary too. This means that the equipment list has prices and availability of each item, but not in game effects. This isn’t a big deal for things like a razor or a scabbard which don’t need that much extra information, but when you’re looking at knives, daggers, and dirks, it’d be nice to know what kind of damage each would do compared to cost and weight. I like that the cultures are so well defined, and that the relationships are so well thought out, but it does add some extra time and page turns to what is an otherwise very fluid and intuitive character generation method.

So far then, it’s all fantastic, and I have a character I’m very happy with. I will carry on this review sporadically as and when different situations present themselves. What I’ll be spending more time doing though is writing an in game diary. I have done this before and had a great time doing it. It will motivate me to get more writing done too, which is never a bad thing. My question though is where to put it. I never wanted this blog to be an in game fiction kind of thing, so I thought about reviving my old page to keep things separate. But would people be happier to just come here to read about the continuing exploits of Kantrel di Gregori? Sound off below with any thoughts and if you have any interest in reading my game write ups here.