Saturday, January 31, 2015

When is it the Player's Turn? - Mouse Guarding Your Favorite RPG

Do you remember that time when I wrote a blog post as part of an amazing circle of fellow adventurous bloggers?  

Guess what

We're back! 

So this month, the Game Master's Roundtable of Doom (aka the Roundtable formerly known as the Cypher System Bloggers) is tackling role-playing game system mechanics an an inter-system, cross-dimensional kind of way.  Specifically the main man himself, +Lex Starwalker, posed the following question:  

"What is a favorite mechanic or idea you’ve encountered in an RPG that you think would work well in other games?  Please explain the mechanic/idea, tell us a bit about the game it comes from, and give some ideas of how it could be used in other games.  You can discuss more than one mechanic or idea if you like."

Last year I had the opportunity to finally play the Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game, by Luke Crane and David Peterson.  I have been an avid reader of David Peterson's Mouse Guard comic book series for several years and love the art, style, and beautifully crafted characters.  That said, this was my first time playing Luke Crane's modified Burning Wheel system, despite having the rules for about as long as the comics.  When I purchased the hardcover RPG, I found the system very distinct and different from the games I was playing at the time (D&D 4E and Savage Worlds).  The game mechanics in Mouse Guard are somewhat abstract, and they focus on creating and preserving a jointly crafted story, with both GM's and players acting as equal storytellers.  I definitely wanted to sit in as a player first, but until I discovered Google+ in 2014, I didn't have an opportunity.  

When I found an open seat during an online Mouse Guard my eyes were opened to an innovative and thought-provoking role-playing game system. 

I'll refrain from a full review of the game, as I don't want to travel too far from my point, so here is just a quick overview.  A Mouse Guard session is broken into two parts: the GM's Turn and the Player's Turn.  During the GM's Turn, obstacles and challenges are placed in front of the players, and they have to leverage their abilities, skills, traits and teammates to seek meaningful outcomes.  

Note the word "meaningful."  Mouse Guard isn't a game about winning, its about character development.  Success, failure, joy, strife, GM's and players are encouraged through the game mechanics to jointly explore all of these equally.  

A player is just as inclined to use a trait (such as Hard Worker, Clever, or Defender) as a penalty to a test as they would as a benefit.  The benefit could be a "+1D" (rolling an additional die) to a roll, while a penalty may be "-1D".    

For example: My character, Avarick, has the Early Riser trait.  During a particular encounter, Avarick and his fellow guardmice are trying to sneak into a weasel encampment.  Let's say that Avarick wants to enter the camp through the front door, timing his entrance for the weasels' shift change.  The GM states that I need to make a Nature (Mouse) test, so I'll be rolling 4 dice (6-siders).  If I wanted to use Early Riser as a benefit, I could say to the GM that I want the +1D because Avarick had time to wake up and start planning his day while everyone else was asleep.  Alternatively, I could say that Avarick woke up early after getting to sleep late, and he was pretty tired, thus losing 1D for the test.  

But why would a player want to take a penalty?  What kind of game mechanic invites players to make their game more challenging?  

The Player's Turn!

When the game shifts from the GM's Turn to the Player's Turn, its time for the other side of the table to start calling the shots.  The players decide how the story is going to progress, and what kind of personal missions or goals they are going to achieve outside of the GM's planned session.  Each attempt to perform an action during the Player's Turn, however, requires a "check" earned during the GM's turn.  Using traits in a negative way gives the player "checks".  

To put this into Numenera terms, think of a check as a reverse GM Intrusion… a Player Intrusion!  The player has earned in-game currency and is going to trade it for limited control of the game.  Checks can also be used for other benefits, such as gaining a recovery check to remove a condition during the GM's turn.  

The Mouse Guard Roleplaying game is over three-hundred pages long, and I am certainly not doing the entire system justice with this description, but it should give you an idea of the flavor of each session.  

A Player's Turn in Other Systems

We're taking the long way towards the original question posed.  All systems have ways to incorporate player interaction at the table, and having a separate "Player's Turn" may seem strange and rather alien.  It certainly did for me, which is why I was so reluctant to play the game before GMing.  The concept of dividing the game sessions between two distinct phases is certainly abstract.  But now that I've seen the system in action my opinion has changed.  I can see the value in giving the players clear authority over the story's direction, and this could certainly work in other systems.  

A Player's Turn may not work in every game session, especially not during a multi-session, Dungeons & Dragons style dungeon crawl.  But when the party returns to camp or a base of operations, it may be the perfect opportunity to give your players full reign over the game.  As a GM I expect my players to come up with interesting backstories, and personal quests that they develop as the campaign progresses.  As much as I want my players to interject their ideas into the game, in a traditional RPG format the players must wait for a lull in the adventure to explore their characters' personal quests.  Clearly delineating a break between the GM's Turn and the Player's Turn ensures that the characters each receive an opportunity for creative development.  They know that they will have the chance to build that wizard's tower, or enter a shady side deal with a local gangster, by the end of the session.  

As to the checks that are earned, a mechanic that promotes a player to embrace added risk in return for future reward is already a proven commodity.  Savage Worlds has the Benny system, coupled with a robust list of Hindrances.  When players role-play their hindrances they may be rewarded with bennies that can be spent later to improve rolls.   

Side Questing

As I thought about answering Lex's original question, I started thinking about ways to incorporate a Player's Turn into my Numenera campaign.  This lead to the concept of a defined "Player Intrusion".  During a Player Intrusion, a player can choose to role-play their Descriptor in a manner that increases the difficulty of a roll by 2.  The roll must be for something meaningful, such as an important non-player character interaction, or during a pitched battle.  GM discretion would be required.  A Player Intrusion can be done once per session, and gains the PC an "Introspection."  

The GM declares the last hour of gameplay to be the Player's Turn, and each player gains one Introspection for completing the session, as well as an additional Introspection for taking on a Player Intrusion.  Introspections can be spent by the player to create a non-player character, introduce a subplot, or influence the setting in a manner that affects the campaign.

For example, Craig is playing Jak the Mutant Glaive who Constantly Evolves.  During combat with a mercenary, Jak is fighting to protect the lives of his team and needs to make an attack roll.  Craig wants to gain an Introspection, so he states that Jak's latest mutation causes him to shake occasionally when under stress.  Player Intrusion!  The difficulty to hit the mercenary is a 3, which increases to a 5.  Craig must now roll a 15 or higher on a d20 to succeed in the attack.

Later, when back in Qi, Craig spends his Introspection to declare that the Iron Wind had been spotted by a nearby farmer, creating panic in the city that will certainly affect the way the next few scenes play out.

Obviously adding this kind of player interaction in your game would require trust between all players and the game master, but a clear Player's Turn could be a great way to change the dynamic at your game table.  Even if you don't plan on using this quick and dirty Player Intrusion mechanic, consider saving time at the end of each session for the players to explore backstories and side-quests.  Not only will this help create interesting stories, the non-linear dynamic will showcase how an RPG session isn't just a choose-your-own-adventure story, but a game where anything and everything is possible!

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One question - Four answers!  If you want a few more perspectives on this topic you've got four more amazing bloggers to choose from:

Adventures in the East Mark - Tower of the Swamp - Session 2

First Time Dungeon Delvers

Back in November, I assembled some of the Norwin Game Knights for an exciting session of XD Publishing's Adventures in the East Mark.  The game was a blast, and I was really excited to showcase a great OSR title in our group.  Unfortunately, we could only get through the first half of Tower of the Swamp, one of the adventures provided in the Basic Rule Set.  So I brought the game to a thrilling conclusion, and just took comfort in a great session.

Imagine my delight when I found out that some of the players wanted to regroup to finish the adventure!  It took a few months to get back to the table, between the holidays and the flu.  Finally, last night some of the original players, as well as a couple new folks, gathered to slay the evil forces plaguing the Tower's dungeons.  

Dramatis Personae

Cheryl was back in action as Landiel "The Doe of Boceret", the party's Elf leader.

Ed returned to the table as Maya the Robledan Warrior.

Not wanting to be left out of the action, Michelle grabbed Kaela the Mage's character sheet, ready to hurl some spells. 

Craig, who played Adventures in the East Mark with us back at Gen Con 2014, chose the brave PaladinSaddin Konnin, for this dungeon delve.  

Eric, a first-time RPG player, picked Khedron Dahl, a mace-wielding Cleric ready to purge the Tower of the Swamp of all evil.    

Entering the dungeon, Landiel scouts ahead with her elvish vision

Adventure Summary

With the Tower of the Swamp's upper level cleared of evil, Landiel spoke to her adventuring party and determined who would explore the dreaded passages below.  Maya, Saddin, and Kaela zealously gathered their weapons and gear, while the party's Cleric, Khedron Dahl,  grabbed his shield and followed his guard dog, Skinner.  The steps heading down into the crypts below were ancient, and in poor repair.  Saddin slung his shield and lit a torch for the group's humans, while Landiel carefully scouted ahead for threats with the aid of her infravision.

For the first half-hour or so the party didn't come across any significant threats.  The hallways throughout the dungeon may have been cold, but lit torches placed throughout the complex proved that someone, or something, had taken up residence.  A storeroom yielded proof that the Tower's inhabitants were in fact the culprits in local raids.  

There was also the drumming.

As the party moved deeper into the dungeon corridors, there was a soft, dull, drumming echoing throughout the halls.  Down the main corridor, the group saw several doors, and Landiel's sharp eyesight revealed a secret door on the western wall.  Choosing the first doorway to the east, Landiel moved forward and opened the door.  The source of the drumming was far more terrible than anyone could imagine.  Inside the chamber, in the middle of sparse furniture, three priests of the demon Orcus chanted fell secrets while pounding on a drum made out of hairy, human flesh.  

Since she was standing in the middle of the door, the three priests charged Landiel, slashing and stabbing with wicked daggers.  Landiel backed away, clutching a vicious wound, while Maya, Saddin, and Khedron filled the gap, blocking the priests from escaping.  Swords slashed and maces smashed, and one by one the evil minions of Orcus fell dead.  Maya felt pretty good about her prowess, and was grinning ear to ear as she valiantly destroyed the forces of darkness…

… and then the strong Robledan Warrior, realized that there was a crossbow bolt sticking out of her chest!  

Shocked by the possible treachery, Maya turned around, eyes wincing in agony.  Instead of a villain, the warrior only saw Landiel holding a hand over her mouth and shaking her head.  Apparently the elf was trying to contribute to combat by firing her crossbow into melee, but missed.  


When the last evil priest was slain, the party moved into the chamber and started digging around.  Some dirty shoes and socks, ritual knives, and a silver dagger were among the riches recovered.  Maya stuck the silver dagger in her backpack, and the team reentered the main corridor.  Landiel approached the secret door to the west, and took a look through a small gap in the wall.  Inside was a terrible torture chamber, where a yellow robed high priest of Orcus was performing some kind of sick rite involving blood, snakes, and all kinds of random, fantastic awfulness.  

The high priest was alone, save for his snake participants, so the party decided to perform a surprise attack.  Looking at each other, the strongest, deadliest, and most capable party-member was chosen for the job.

"Skin 'em!" shouted Khedron to his trained guard dog Skinner.  

The dog sprung into action, and charged the high priest who was clearly taken aback. Despite Skinner's verve, the cultist managed to fend off the attack using his magic hammer.  The high priest then commanded his snakes to attack Skinner, and started preparing a spell.  The party realized that the dog was outmatched, so Maya, Landiel, Saddin, and Kaela entered the room with weapons drawn and spells ready.  

Even though the heroes outnumbered the high priest five-to-one, they were having a very difficult time harming the demon-worshiper.  Crossbow bolts and sling stones simply missed the high priest.  Even when Maya engaged in hand to hand combat, her bastard sword wasn't drawing blood.  Keep in mind that Saddin was nowhere to be found in this combat.  When the paladin charged the high priest, he was overcome with fear and fled the room screaming.  Kaela was trying to deal with the snakes during all this mess, but when she lobbed a torch at the the pile of venomous reptiles, she missed.

[GM's note: this was the absolute worst rolling I have seen in about a decade.  The party needed either a 15 or higher to hit the priest's AC 2, so about 25% of the attacks should have been getting through.  After twelve consecutive attacks, only one hit.  That's an 8.33% success rate.  Just terrible]

So... yeah… the battle was going very poorly…

But then Landiel started turning the tide with a well placed Magic Missile spell.  The next hit would come from Khedron, who smashed through the high priest's armor with his mace, completely rattling the demon-worshipper.  The high priest started to flee, but not before Khedron caught him again with some well-placed cudgeling.  The high priest fell dead!  After Kaela successfully dispersed the tiny snakes with the torch, the team believed that enough evil had been vanquished for the day.  Victorious yet tired, Landiel decided that there had been enough battle for the day, and led the team out of the dungeon.  


Cheryl - "I have elvish vision."

Ed - "You can only see elves?"

"It's a non-echoing, heavy dripping." - Jim the GM describes dripping in exquisite detail.  

"I have my 'Cheeseburger of Battle', that should give me a +10!"  - Cheryl pleads with the GM for an unusual bonus.  

"I have totally changed my opinion.  Skinner leads the party." - Ed found out that Khedron's dog has 2 more hit points than the party's Warrior.  

"We would be defeated by Cookie Monster at this point." - Ed was totally disgusted with the group's rolling.  

Go get started!

Another exciting adventure in the East Mark, but if this little tidbit of OSR goodness seemed like fun, you have to check out the game!  

The PDF can be found on for under $10.  Just want to give it a look?  The Quick Start rules are FREE!

If you want a print copy it's available as a boxed set directly from XD Publishing.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Anxious About Their First Time - GM'ing for Brand New Players

Running Adventures in the East Mark again tomorrow night… maybe for some new faces!

For the last year and a half I've been busy running a local game club in the Pittsburgh area called the Norwin Game Knights.  This isn't news for some of you, but for the sake of informing my new readers, we are a family-friendly gaming club that promotes and enjoys all kinds of tabletop games.  Board games, card games, dice games, role-playing games, you'll find just about anything you or your family would like to play.  Typically I am found running an RPG event each month, and often I find myself staring across the table at one or two brand new players.  For those lucky (or possibly unlucky) individuals, the session that I run that evening will be their very first role-playing experience.  But even after clocking-in nearly twenty-five years behind the GM's screen, when running games for first-timers I often feel a significant amount of stress and anxiety.  

Despite the lump in my throat that forms during these games, I tend to schedule quite a few introductory sessions throughout the year.  I am an experienced participant of a very social hobby that depends upon a constant supply of new players.  By running games for those individuals interested in trying out an RPG, I am helping to replenish the "general gamer population," or GGP.  

Fact:  there is a constant down-pressure on our GGP due to several, very serious threats:
  • Losing gamers to other hobbies, like fish-killing or deer-killing
  • Losing gamers to other activities, like sportsball
  • Losing gamers to non-gamer spouses/significant others
  • Losing gamers to workaholism 
  • Losing gamers to "growing up" (eww!)

First Numenera game for six players!

So as you can see, I need to be running these events in order to do my part in refilling geekdom's population.  But I still get "the shakes" each time I set up the dice screen.  The reason is simple: there is a lot of pressure to make sure the new player has a good time.  

While I have a lot of faith in my ability to craft a story and promote positive interaction with players, a player's first time is critical to their future as a gamer.  That first gaming session will be the benchmark for their gaming career in years to come.  Most first-timers will have an "okay" first session, and hopefully will pick up the dice again.  An especially great tabletop experience, full of colorful role-play and incredible action, will hook a new gamer-geek for life.  But a negative experience could reinforce poor gamer habits (such as rules-lawyering, or munchkinism), or even turn someone away from gaming forever…


Fortunately most of the players that I have brought to the table have returned for at least another game or two, and hopefully they enjoy tabletop RPG events in the future.  I can't guarantee that every new player I bring to the table will become an over-the-top, RPG fanatic like yours truly, however I typically give my players an experience worthy of at least a few in-game anecdotes.  

Want to make a great first game?  Wear a hat!

If you are preparing to run a game for one or more first-timers, here are a few tips and tricks that I would offer in order to make that first experience terrific.  I try to do most of these myself, and while I still get a little anxious, being prepared is always helpful!

  • If you are using pre-generated characters, try to get a good idea of the player's expectations before making a choice.  Someone interested in emulating Conan the Barbarian may not be very happy with a spoony Bard.
  • When arranging seating at the table, put the new player (or players) directly in front of you so that you can more closely monitor their interest and enjoyment.  This also makes it easier for a new player to get your attention should they have a question.
  • Seat new players next to experienced veterans, and have a talk with those seasoned gamers.  Let them know that you as a GM expect their help during the game.
  • A new gamer's first time is the most memorable, so milk the moment!  Try to insert at least one scene that focuses on the new player and gives them the opportunity to shine!  
  • At the end of the session, take the new players aside and get their feedback.  Did they have a good time, or was there confusion during the game?  If their excitement is palpable, and they want to get started on their own game, give them a few tips on how to go about the process.  Send them to your favorite, friendly local game store or get their email and walk them through DriveThruRPG or  

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Did I miss something?  Do you have any suggestions?  How do you go about bringing new players into the hobby?  Let us all know in the comments below!

By the way, if you are in the Pittsburgh Area and are looking for YOUR first time at a gaming table (or a second time, or a four-thousandth time!) come check out the Norwin Game Knights on our Facebook Group page!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Quattro con Carnage - Session 6 - Savage Worlds

More Savage Awesomeness

One thing I've noticed throughout this Quattro con Carnage experiment is that I feel a little disappointed during each game system shift.  For sure, I truly enjoy each of the systems that we are playing, but it seems that as soon as our group gets into the "groove" with the character builds, we make the next big change.  Session 6 marks the 3/4ths point in QcC, and the last Savage Worlds adventure.  While I'm excited to take these five characters through the Cypher System, I am sad to leave behind all those unspent bennies. 

For this adventure I dusted off a map from +MonkeyBlood Design called "The Black Rent" to represent the Lost Chasm.  While I love just about every map that Glynn Seal of MonkeyBlood Design does, I'm absolutely enthralled by his side-view maps.  As a Metroid fan, the idea of dragging characters through a side-scrolling adventure is both innovative and nostalgic at the same time.  I'm was taken back to Simon Belmont and Castlevania when the party was exploring the caverns, and delighted as the group had to deal with all of the vertical challenges.  Put a one-hundred foot drop on a traditional top-down map and its hard for players to truly appreciate the distance down.  But if you show them the side-view, their mouths fall agape! 

It was a lot of fun, especially when I "dropped" the into the finale!

Dramatis Personae con Carnage

Umbrin, played by Jeremy
A guard-for-hire from Tannryth once in the employee of a wealthy Archon
  • Attributes:  Agility: d10,  Smarts: d6,  Spirit: d4,  Strength: d8,  Vigor: d8
  • Edges:  Mighty Blow, Frenzy, Combat Reflexes 
  • Hindrances:  Bad Luck, Cautious, Greedy
  • Skills:  Fighting d10, Gambling d4, Healing d4, Intimidation d6, Notice d6, Riding d4, Shooting d8, Streetwise d4
  • Spells/Powers/Signature Gear:  Battle Axe (one handed again!)

Lomman Senan, played by Marc
A devout crusader of Ogmios looking enforce some "justice healing"
  • Attributes:  Agility: d6,  Smarts: d6,  Spirit: d10,  Strength: d6,  Vigor: d8
  • Edges:  Arcane Background: Miracles, Power Points, Holy Warrior
  • Hindrances:  Vow (Ogmios), Pacifist, Quirk (Constantly thinking about Elven ladies)
  • Skills:  Faith d8, Fighting d8, Healing d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d8, Knowledge History d4
  • Spells/Powers/Signature Gear:  Healing, Smite, Deflection 

Rydian Ornitiar, played by Andy
An Aarenian relic-hunter who longs to recover a lost family artifact
  • Attributes:  Agility: d6,  Smarts: d12,  Spirit: d8,  Strength: d4,  Vigor: d4
  • Edges:  Wizard, Rapid Recharge, Power Points
  • Hindrances:  Lame (using this for the "weakness" afflicting Rydian while under the effects of the Queen of the Ever After's Quest), Vow, Quirk (gives bad advice)
  • Skills:  Fighting d4, Spellcasting d10, Knowledge Arcana d8, Shooting d6, Investigation d8, Persuasion d6, Notice d4
  • Spells/Powers/Signature Gear:  Bolt, Armor, Elemental Manipulation

Jorin Everlast, played by Craig
A pilfering initiate to the Embrace who just "made bones" 
  • Attributes:  Agility: d8,  Smarts: d6,  Spirit: d6,  Strength: d6,  Vigor: d8
  • Edges:  Thief, Assassin
  • Hindrances:  Wanted (Major, the Embrace), Loyal, Quirk (Hates big people)
  • Skills:  Notice: d4, Climb d6, Lockpick d6, Stealth d8, Fighting d8, Shooting d8, Streetwise d4, Throwing d6
  • Spells/Powers/Signature Gear:  Short sword, short bow

Drogos, played by Andreas
Dwarven blacksmith, last survivor of Happenstance, and holy convert to Ogmios
  • Attributes:  Agility: d8,  Smarts: d6,  Spirit: d6,  Strength: d8,  Vigor: d8
  • Edges:  Hard to Kill, Arcane Resistance, Arcane Background (Miracles)
  • Hindrances:  Curious, Greedy, Vow (Minor)
  • Skills:  Gambling d6, Fighting d8, Intimidate d4, Repair d8, Streetwise d6, Throwing d8, Blacksmithing d6, Faith d4
  • Spells/Powers/Signature Gear:  Trusty Hammer, Spells: Smite, Summon Ally

A Savage Intrusion

Our brave heroes Umbrin, Lomman, Rydian, Jorin, and Drogos had faced the horrors of the Ever After and finally found themselves standing in front of the Lost Chasm.  The tear in the muddy landscape consisted of massive hole in the ground with a thirty-foot diameter.  A single nearby stream worked its way into the drop, creating a waterfall cascading into the seemingly endless void. 

Rydian figured the quest was nearly over, so he grabbed the Iceshard Wasting and the Horn of the Ice Demon and cast both into the hole, just as the Queen of the Ever After had instructed.  Unfortunately, as the items fell alongside the rushing waters and into darkness, a loud cackling came from the hole.  The maniacal voice seemed intrigued that these two items were tossed down, and continued to laugh as it faded away.  Rydian soon realized that his curse wasn't broken, and that the effects of the quest spell were still causing him great difficulty.  It looked like the party was going to have to do this the hard way and descend into the pit. 

After affixing a rope to a nearby tree, Drogos was the first to enter the pit.  The central chasm descended farther than anyone's eyes could see, but there were several passages jutting off of the main drop.  Climbing down thirty feet to a small tunnel, Drogos used his infravision to scout ahead.  The next chamber was full of beautiful crystal stalactites, and ended with a passage heading deeper into the cave complex.  Drogos moved across the cavern, but when several stalactites started to drop upon his head, the dwarf had to tumble out of the way.  Soon Rydian, Jorin, and Umbrin were nearby, getting ready to run past the falling stalactites as well.  But when the team looked at each other they noticed that someone was missing. 

There was an old rope attached to a piton at the mouth of the crystal cavern entrance, and the rope headed deeper down the chasm.  Lomman seemed drawn to the depths, and while the party explored above, he delved further below.  In another cave complex, Lomman heard a soft and creepy voice call out to him.  Goaded and toyed with, Lomman finally submitted to the voice and entered a barren chamber, awash in a blue glow.  The crusader never would've taken the bait if not for being offered a certain book: the Iceshard Wasting.

Meanwhile, the rest of the team followed the path to the main focus of the crystal caverns: a beautiful garden of blue crystal stalagmites embracing an enchanted sword.  Fearful that the stalagmites might fire up at the party, Drogos used his power to summon an ogre into the room.  The ogre moved towards the crystals, but soon started talking to something.  

Then the ogre exploded in a blast of blood and viscera as a dozen crystal spears machine-gunned into the humanoid's hairy chest.

Unfazed by this, Drogos summoned a second ogre, to the exact same effect.  The party discussed leaving the chamber but Umbrin really wanted that sword!  So the human warrior entered the chamber and moved towards the blade.  To his delight, the sword introduced itself to Umbrin as "Sashiria."  After a brief conversation, the sword invited Umbrin to carry it away.  With one grip of the blade, Umbrin found true love.  When Umbrin announced his new friend's name, Rydian seemed concerned.  The elf announced that the name "Sashiria" was associated with an ancient demon named the "Faeripper."  Even though Sashiria rebuked Rydian's words with a very clear disdain for elves, Umbrin wasn't letting his new lass go. 

Lomman really hoped his friends would come soon, since the spirit holding the Iceshard Wasting was continuing to toy with the crusader.  The spirit declared that her name was "Suzanne" and this caused Lomman to chuckle.  This greatly angered the spirit, and when Lomman stated that he was simply surprised that the spirit's name was so short, Suzanne demanded a longer name.  The two went back and forth and finally, after being pressed, Lomman said "Suzanne" aloud.  This was some sort of ghost-trick, as once the spirit's name was muttered Lomman transitioned to an ethereal world! 

When the rest of the party finally found their cleric, he was a faded image just like the ghost, and was being absorbed into the glowing chamber!  Springing into action, Jorin distracted the ghost while Rydian blasted several bursts of fire at the undead entity.  The elf's magic softened up Suzanne enough so that Umbrin's new blade Sashiria could obliterated the mischievous spirit.  Everyone turned to Lomman, who was still coming out of his ethereal phase shift, a bit poorer.  While in the ether, his ancestral hammer's head was turned to glass by Suzanne. 

The party acquired the Iceshard Wasting, but still needed the Horn of the Ice Demon.  Returning to the chasm the party saw another passage twenty more feet down, and directly below the crystal caverns.  Coming up a bit short on rope, the party considered summoning ogres and using Rydian's elemental manipulation spell to dig their way into the next chamber, but this plan would've taken days worth of spellcasting power.  Rydian was reminded by his team that his elemental manipulation spell could still create smaller depressions in the walls of the chasm, possibly creating handholds. 


The party all moved across the chasm and down into the next chamber.  But when they entered the very large and open cavern, the smell of death and decay washed over everyone.  A low, rumbling voice called out to the party, asking for food.  Just a "taste" or a "morsel" the voice promised.  Soon the creature revealed itself to be a large lizard-like form. 

It was the legendary, yet previously unheard of Mad Drake

The Mad Drake told the party that just happened to be in possession of the Horn of the Ice Demon, and would happily trade the artifact for the flesh and blood of a man.  The characters started talking amongst themselves, trying to figure out the best way to make the deal.  Drogos could summon some humans, but the spell had a very limited duration.  The Mad Drake didn't seem to want any trail rations, and the party didn't have anything else to trade. 

Actually, the entire sidebar conversation was taking too long, so the Mad Drake just breathed fire on the entire party!

Lomman was quick to put up his shield and walk towards the beast, while Umbrin and Drogos charged its flanks.  Rydian immediately started summoning bolts of flame to set the beast ablaze, but after the smoke cleared the elf realized that not only was his magic ineffective, so were his teammates weapons!  Even though the party could easily hit the Mad Drake, they couldn't get through its tough hide. 

After Drogos fell to the creature's claws with his chest ripped open, Jorin the Halfling chose a new tactic.  The little Halfling carefully aimed one of his arrows at the Mad Drake's eye and let loose.  Bullseye!  The Mad Drake reared back in agony as it was now blind in one eye.  It would only take a moment for Rydian to follow suit and lob a bolt into the other eye.  Now completely blind the Mad Drake couldn't see as the party grabbed rushed forward grabbing the Horn of the Ice Demon and Drogos' pitiful body.

Leaving the Mad Drake's lair, the party prepared to climb back up to another level.  After a quick healing spell for his dying friend, Lomman tried to carry Drogos on his back.  But as the cleric moved from one carved handhold to another, his fingers slipped.  With a loud crash both the cleric and the injured dwarven blacksmith fell one-hundred feet into a pool of dark water.  Umbrin, Rydian, and Jorin could only stare in disbelief as there two fellow party members disappeared into the depths of the chasm.  They stared so long that they didn't realize that a nearby spirit was lurking.  The spirit shrieked, momentarily jolting the three adventurers and forcing them to lose their grip.  Three more adventurers fell one-hundred feet into the pool.   

Umbrin, Lomman, Jorin, and Rydian were still in shock, but not because of the fall.  Wading next to Lomman was a wounded but reinvigorated Drogos. 

"The water woke me up!" Drogos exclaimed.

That dwarf sure was "hard to kill"! 

Most Notable Quotations

Jim - "I'm gonna have to start throwing a lot of my games together to get through that stack I've got."
Andreas - "Isn't that what you normally do?" 

"I can provide all the light that you need." - A spirit of the Lost Chasm talking very eerily to Lomman.

"I think the first thing I'm thinking of us Ghostbusters." - Andreas had some plans for that spirit.

"You have an ogre?" - Andy didn't realize that Drogos always has an ogre. 

"So… would you be adverse to me going ahead and… taking that?" - Umbrin talking to the sword Sashiria.

"Did Umbrin just ask a sword for a date?" - Marc realized that Umbrin was talking about taking the sword. 

"Let go of the rope." - Another spirit of the Lost Chasm
"Are you sure about this?" - Drogos was trying to decide how far his Curious hindrance would take him. 

Jim - "You're just gonna wait?"
Andreas - "Yeah, I'll watch this one out.

"I'm lookin' for a beef and cheese sandwich." - Lomman was a man on a mission. 

"I would say that if it was a deal of fighting a twenty-foot dragon or giving up some trail mix, I'd be okay with giving up the rations." - Jeremy didn't quite believe that the Mad Drake was going to back down for some trail rations, but was open to the concept.

"I just exploded my 12." - Jim felt really bad when the Mad Drake's d12 damage die exploded.  Twice. 

"Go for the nards!" - Lomman's new war cry.

Behind the Schemes

As I mentioned before, if you like the idea of side-view maps, or just good damned maps in general, go check out +MonkeyBlood Design either on Google+ or at his website here.  Also, the "Black Rent" was available on Map Monday at OSR Today, so go take a look!  Changing your players' perspectives can offer a pretty interesting twist to the boring dungeon crawl.

Miss a Quattro con Carnage Post?  

All of the fun so far:

Monday, January 26, 2015

Why You Should Play - Weird Wars Rome

Hold fast, recruit, for a word from your Decanus!

I welcome you all to read this post, but note that it is definitely targeting those folks in the Savage Worlds community (Savages) who have yet to purchase Weird Wars Rome, or who may have Kickstarted the project but never opened the PDF files.  That said, if you are a fan of historical games, but have yet to play Savage Worlds, you should stick around too!  

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Over the last few years, I’ve come to love the Savage Worlds community, not only because it is full of really terrific people, but also because most Savages love eclectic games and crazy mashups.  Just like me!  Even better, the developers of Savage Worlds, Pinnacle Entertainment Group and their many licensees, constantly release products catering to the wants and desires of their fans.  Truly, in 2015 it’s a great time to be a fellow Savage!

Want to play in a Flash Gordon-type universe, with bird men and clunky robots?  We got it!  Want to sail the high seas as pirates from different ages in history, teaming up with squid-faced gents and man-sized crab-navigators?  Yeah, we’ve got that too!  Don’t even get me started about the Weird West and the Wasted West!  Dark Fantasy, Steampunk, Cthulhu, Pulp Adventure, post-apocalyptic sentient Twinkies… Savage Worlds does just about everything and anything.  I’ll go a step further and repeat a bold statement that I mentioned last week during the first Savage Worlds portion of our Quattro con Carnage campaign:  

“Hands down, Savage Worlds is THE BEST action-adventure role-playing game I’ve ever played.”

And now Savage Worlds does Ancient Rome!

Actually the word “now” may not be entirely accurate, as Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s product line for Weird Wars Rome started rolling out in the fall of 2013 at the conclusion of a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign.  But I still think that there are a lot of Savage gaming groups out there who have never tried Weird Wars Rome, and definitely a lot of non-Savages who probably don’t even know that there is a terrific option to recreate their favorite gladiator movies.  

Because everyone likes gladiator movies, right?

I’m a fanatic for good, gritty, bloody Roman history.  I’ve read historical texts as well as fiction, and treasure my copy of the AD&D 2nd Edition Glory of Rome supplement.  During a long drive, you can find me listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcasts. The Punic Nightmare episodes are definitely my favorite!  HBO’s Rome was a pretty decent show, but I could spend another thousand words discussing Spartacus: Blood and Sand and the follow-up seasons.  Manu Bennett as Crixus is probably as badass as sword & sandal adventure gets!  Let’s face it, just writing this post makes me want to boot up Rome: Total War on my PC when I get home later.  

To share this love of all things Roman I’ve enjoyed running Weird Wars Rome for anyone willing to sit down and give the setting a spin.  Just after the Kickstarter I ran a one-shot called “Hannibal’s Wake” about a team of Celts trying to survive in the path of Carthaginians as they trek through the Alps.  

Three words on that:  Undead War Elephants!  

At Gen Con 2014 I ran “Appian Slay”, an adventure featuring Roman soldiers dealing with Spartacus’ undead legions coming down off of the crosses along Rome’s most travelled roadway.  I even ran a short campaign for some friends that took place during the Gallic Wars, with Vercingetorix’s forces using Werewolves.  Some of my long-time readers may remember those, since I blogged the play reports back in mid-2014.

But you don’t have to be a fanatical, Cold-Steel training gladius owning, Titus Pullo worshipping, “I am Spartacus” shouting fan of ancient Rome to play Weird Wars Rome*.  So let me share my top three reasons why YOU should play Savage Worlds - Weird Wars Rome.  

*By the way, if you DO happen to be a fanatical, Cold-Steel training gladius owning, Titus Pullo worshipping, “I am Spartacus” shouting fan of ancient Rome, I salute you, and offer to run this game for you on Google+!  

The view from my side of the screen at Gen Con 2014

Historical Fantasy

If you love the fantasy genre, but have become bored to death by the typical High Fantasy settings on the market, you may find Historical Fantasy to be a very refreshing change of pace.  Gone are the elves, goblins, and dragons of Gary Gygax’s Dungeons & Dragons.  As a game master you get the chance to dig through myths and legends that were rumored to exist in this era.  Actually, you could take the “fantasy” out of the setting completely, and there is enough risk and reward for any group of players.  The ancient world is full of dark and terrible mysteries, and while that map of the Mediterranean may look relatively safe from within the confines of a warm Roman villa, danger lurks all about.  If you were a Roman facing Hannibal’s army, those war elephants were definitely fantastic monsters.  

Facing a Hate!

But giving ancient Rome a twist of mythology really makes the Weird Wars Rome setting shine!  All of those old wives tales told by Roman mothers to their sons when leaving for war become a lot more interesting when they are real.  Weird Wars Rome features fourteen pages full of new threats to encounter while on the march, from druids to dryads.  There are mummies in Egypt, Strigoi (vampires) in Dacia, and of course my favorite Germanian Werewolves.  One of the most interesting monsters that I featured during my games was the “Hate”.  Essentially a cloud of vengeful souls, this massive undead fog incites rage in anything it touches and yet can only be destroyed by spells or by the souls’ weapons left behind on the battlefield.  Weird Wars Rome is designed to balance the realities of ancient Roman society with the mythology, but a game master could certainly ratchet up the supernatural should they choose.  

Fight like a Roman

Weird Wars Rome makes the assumption that all player characters will belong to one of the legions.  While this is not completely necessary, and I have already stated that I ran a session featuring Celts as player characters, most of the edges and hindrances are built for the legions.  But I certainly don’t want to give the impression that this is a negative, as it is not.  In fact, building a team of legionaries, or a “contubernium”, is quite immersive.  Player characters have several roles to choose from, such as the standard legionary, a decanus (sergeant), or perhaps a foreign member of the auxilia.  Even gladiators may serve alongside the legions, according to Weird Wars Rome.  While running the Gallic campaign this past summer, it was fun to roleplay the relationships between the different characters and the legions’ commanders.  Since our campaign featured both a foreign auxilia and a gladiator slave, how they interacted with the other characters made for some interesting dialogue.    

But it’s the edges and equipment that really make the soldiers of this game feel different from your typical axe wielding fighters of other fantasy settings.  As an example, the edge “Shield Wall” grants a +1 parry to any adjacent characters who also have the edge.  So if you have three legionaries, all armed with massive shields and with the Shield Wall edge, the two outer legionaries gain a +1 parry and the middle legionary gains a +2 parry.  In game terms, when my players were fighting werewolves, they quickly learned to “form up” to take down significant threats.  Just like in all those gladiator movies!  Since a Weird Wars Rome session is also supposed to focus on the legions themselves, including rules for camp life, other edges help mitigate some of the drudgery of being on the march.  Making camp at the end of a march could fatigue a player character, but having the Aquilifer edge means that soldier carries the Aquila (standard) and is relieved from the toils of setting up massive tents and building fortifications.  

Join the Legion

Actually, all of these camp activities lead into my third reason why you should play Weird Wars Rome: Praescripta Mundi.  Don’t speak Latin?  According to page 27 of Weird Wars Rome these are the setting rules.  Whereas most Savage settings use two or three additional setting rules, here are all the cool and amazing options you have when running Weird Wars Rome:

  • Awards and Promotions
  • Naval Actions
  • Sieges
  • Spoils
  • Testudo
  • Travel
  • Volley Fire

Read through those again.  Notice anything?  Almost all of these setting rules involve players taking part in some of the great battles of ancient history, or perhaps starting some new legendary conflicts of their own.  Savage Worlds already has rules for mass combat, giving game masters and players a quick, light, but nuanced way to showcase entire armies going to war on the battlefield.  But Weird Wars Rome takes this a step further, allowing game masters to “zoom in” on certain pivotal points in the conflict to showcase the individual legionaries on the field.  

For example, as a game master I could set up a battle between six cohorts of Roman legionaries and eight units of Gallic werewolf-reinforced barbarians defending a ridge.  I could run two rounds of combat using the existing Mass Combat rules in the Savage Worlds Deluxe corebook, but then for the last battle at the ridge zoom in to the players and their contubernium.  For that scene, the players may have enough NPC’s to form a Testudo (tortoise formation), while I allow the Gallic forces to use their arrows to create Volley Fire.  

It may not be “Roman”, but imagine the battle scene on the beach in the movie “Troy”.  Want to be the Roman version of Achilles lobbing pila (heavy javelins) while storming the barbarian gates?

In Weird Wars Rome this is the kind of epic action you get… in every game!

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Are you ready to pledge your service to the Republic?  You can pick up the Weird Wars Rome PDF at DriveThruRPG or at Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s website.  You can also get the print version from either PEG or  When you do decide to make your purchase, keep in mind that there are other materials out there to support your Roman game, from a GM screen/adventure combo in print, to quite a few inexpensive PDF’s for figure flats, new creatures, and pre-gen characters.

Have you already taken the next step to battle the forces of evil across the Mediterranean?  Let us know your thoughts on the system, your campaign, and Weird Wars Rome in general!  

Hail Caesar!