Sunday, June 28, 2015

Viking Crawl Classics - Isle of the Abbey - Session 1

[GM's Note:  For the full experience of reading this blogpost, open another window/tab, go to YouTube, and start listening to the full original soundtrack for The Banner Saga.  It'll add to the experience… promise!]

A Rune Carved Summer

A few weeks ago I had a craving for a new TV show to binge-watch on either Netflix or Hulu+.  Something with swords, shields, and battles.  Lots of battles.  Several of my friends recommended Vikings on the History Channel, and I'm so glad they did since this show is awesome!  This is what television was made for: epic battles, fierce winds on the high seas, dark and gritty religious rites.  

Vikings has it all!  

To compound all the Viking-ness that was coming through the TV, at the same time I was making a run at finishing The Banner Saga, a turn-based RPG by Stoic Studio.  If you aren't familiar with the game, I suggest watching this trailer.  Tell me that doesn't look amazing.  The game feels like a blend of Oregon Trail, Fire Emblem, and an incredible cartoon from my childhood.  You can show me all of the big releases at E3 2015, and not one of them excites me as much as watching the trailer for The Banner Saga 2, or booting up Darkest Dungeon for the first time this past week.

[Sorry, didn't mean to go on an indie-game rant…] 

Since I use movies, television, and video games to feed into my main hobby - tabletop RPG's - it didn't take me long to start thinking up ways to have a Viking experience at the gaming table.  Not sure if I'd want to go for a full campaign or just a one-shot, I thought I'd begin small and just see where the winds, and our oars, took us.  

Gold from the 90's

I started playing role-playing games in the early 1990's, and my mom was awesome enough to get me a subscription to Dungeon Magazine when she saw my growing interest in the role-playing hobby.  One of my favorite adventures from this era was Isle of the Abbey by Randy Maxwell, as featured in Dungeon Magazine Issue #34.  Designed for use with the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (quite possibly my favorite D&D product of all time), Isle of the Abbey is a low-level adventure generic enough to fit into any fantasy campaign.  Author Randy Maxwell recommended that 4-6 characters of 1st to 3rd level could handle this adventure, and I would agree, although 1st level characters would have a very difficult time with certain parts.  

Isle of the Abbey can easily fit in any setting, so long as there is some reason to place a cloister, church, or temple on the middle of a tiny island.  When I ran this adventure as a thirteen-year old I just placed it off the coast of my home-brew campaign setting, a land called Hyler (probably named it that because of its similarity to "Hyrule"… I wasn't that original.)  Back in 2012, when my 4th Edition D&D campaign was winding down our group was considering a jump back to AD&D 2nd Edition Dragonlance.  I wanted to use a few low-level adventures form my childhood to kickoff the campaign, and Isle of the Abbey was on my list, to be placed in the Straits of Algoni between Southern Ergoth and Abanasinia.  That group ended up disbanding, and so Dungeon Magazine Issue #34 returned to my vault.  

Even though this Viking game was probably going to end up as a one-shot, I wanted to inject a little setting material to give the adventure some Norse-flavor.  Thanks to TSR's Historical Reference 1 (HR1), Vikings Campaign Sourcebook, this was very easy to accomplish.  Historical timelines, Viking names, rune magic, Norse-mythology, this classic 2nd Edition book gives a GM everything he or she would need to run an authentic campaign.  What I love most about this historical reference is it's authenticity.  HR1 doesn't depict Vikings as the stereotypical, horned helm, battle axe wielding berserkers.  Sure you can play a berserker, and there are rules for that build, but HR1 takes the time to explore the world of the Dark Ages from the Viking perspective:  dangerous, mysterious, and yet full of promise.  

Given the awesomeness of the Vikings Campaign Sourcebook, I decided to making the Viking World of the 9th century our "campaign setting"… with a bit of a twist.  

DCC & Longships

The last choice I had to make was selecting a ruleset.  Isle of the Abbey is D&D Basic "native", while the Vikings Campaign Sourcebook was designed for AD&D 2nd Edition.  But one of the reasons that I've fallen in love with OSR (old school renaissance) games and D&D Retro-clones is that I have several to pick from when running something from the "classical era."  Everything out there is cross-compatible!  Even back in the day, AD&D 2nd Edition to D&D Basic conversions were simple.  Just a few quick tweaks and you were on your way.  

Running a game with the D&D Rules Cyclopedia is on my list of "things to do in 2015", but I shelved the idea for now.  The group of gamers I assembled for Isle of the Abbey were all familiar with Dungeon Crawl Classics, and frankly any excuse I can get to roll those weird dice is fine with me.  

From left to right: Craig, Andy, Cheryl, Ed the Viking

Four of my players (Jen, Andy, Cheryl, and Ed) took part in That 70's Game, an event this past February when I ran Sailors on a Starless Sea for a group of players dressed in their best 70's garb.  My buddies Andy and Craig both belong to my Tuesday night online gaming group, and we used DCCRPG in our Quattro con Carnage experiment back over the holidays.  

For most of the players, however, their DCCRPG experiences were limited to 0-level funnels.  Only Andy and Craig have played higher level characters.  Given the difficulty of Isle of the Abbey, and author Randy Maxwell's recommendation for D&D Basic characters (about 12 total levels, he states), I came up with the following:

  • Using Purple Sorcerer Games' Upper Level Character Generator each player could pick from a randomly generated 1st level Warrior, Thief, Wizard, or Cleric.  Only one 1st level character per player.
  • Since I'm not completely heartless, and I know how deadly OD&D and DCCRPG are, I gave each character two randomly selected 0-level "attendants," each generated from the 0-Level Character Generator.
  • Although "authenticity" in a fantasy game isn't necessary I did have a few restrictions.  No dwarves or halflings, and elves would only be allowed as attendants, not 1st level main characters.  

Even though everything was generated randomly, everyone was very pleased with what Purple Sorcerer Games created.  Frankly, I was really surprised at the power of some of the characters, and we lucked out with the virtual die-rolls!  

Jen opted for 70's garb again… and special wine.

Our Brave Viking Crew

Hildenoore the Wizard, played by Jennifer
  • 1st Level
  • Occupation: Squire
  • Alignment: Chaos
  • Str 8, Agi 11, Sta 14, Per 15, Int 12, Luc 17
  • Lucky Sign: Wild Child
  • Weapons:  Staff, Dagger, Longsword
  • Spells:  Ekim's Mystical Mask, Flaming Hands, Spider Climb, Ventriliquism
  • Attendants:
    • Gauti the Orphan
    • Heidrick the Barber

Rolo the Cleric, played by Craig

  • 1st Level
  • Occupation: Astrologer
  • Alignment: Law
  • Str 11, Agi 13, Sta 11, Per 14, Int 15, Luc 14
  • Lucky Sign: Harsh Winter
  • Weapons:  Warhammer, Sling, Dagger
  • Spells:  Darkness, Holy Sanctuary, Protection from Evil, Second Sight
  • Attendants:
    • Smid the Mendicant
    • Illugi the Soldier

Frelger the Thief, played by Andy

  • 1st Level
  • Occupation: Alchemist
  • Alignment: Chaos
  • Str 10, Agi 10, Sta 14, Per 10, Int 14, Luc 10
  • Lucky Sign: Seventh Son
  • Weapons:  Short Sword, Dagger, Staff
  • Attendants:
    • Ulf the Parsnip Farmer
    • Svafrlami the Trapper

Brienne the Warrior, played by Cheryl

  • 1st Level
  • Occupation: Herder
  • Alignment: Neutral
  • Str 11, Agi 14, Sta 16, Per 11, Int 11, Luc 17
  • Lucky Sign: Hawkeye
  • Weapons:  Short Bow, Short Sword, Staff
  • Attendants:
    • Orr the Rutabaga Farmer
    • Yrsa the Elven Chandler

Calder the Warrior, played by Ed 
  • 1st Level
  • Occupation: Butcher
  • Alignment: Neutral
  • Str 15, Agi 10, Sta 12, Per 11, Int 11, Luc 14
  • Lucky Sign: Four-leafed Clover
  • Weapons:  Battle Axe, Spear, Hand Axe 
  • Attendants:
    • Fafnir the Ditch Digger
    • Helga the Fortune Teller
[Most of the 0-level characters were typical fodder, but a special mention had to be made for Orr.  One of Brienne's attendants, this character has the makings of a pretty amazing Wizard!  Stats are Str 12, Agi 14, Sta 15, Per 14, Int 17, and Luc 10.  Coupled with a goose, and a mule acquired during the game, if Brienne falls I think Cheryl would be happy upgrading Orr to a primary character.]

See those numbers?  Each represents the number of skeletons popping up!

Isle of the Abbey, Part One

Brienne surveyed the coast of this supposedly "cursed" island with grim determination.  Located off the northern cost of Scotland, this two mile long, surprisingly plain lump of grass and stone seemed serene.  This was the second excursion planned by Earl Ivar to this unknown island, the first having been a complete disaster, claiming the Earl's son.  But the noble was under pressure to send out a second raiding party, and so he picked his least favored warriors to take part.  Brienne and her raiding party would surely fail, the Earl thought, and thus end the clan's desire to explore this island.  Selected as leader for this raid, Brienne was eager to prove her Earl wrong.  

[As nice as it sounds to have a party of "equals" this didn't happen in Viking society.  Rather than let the party pick themselves, I thought I'd just make Cheryl be the leader of the group.  It didn't hurt that Brienne of Tarth is one of my favorite Game of Thrones characters.]

The raiding party didn't know why this island was declared "cursed" when they set out, but upon arrival there certainly was an ominous feeling in the air.  The only structure on the island was supposed to be a large Christian monastery, but when the Vikings arrived the structure was just a smoking wreck.  Whether the work of another raiding party, an accident, or an "act of the gods," the promise of riches was still alluring, especially after several weeks at sea.  

Scouting the island's perimeter, Brienne and her crew had two choices: 

  1. Brave the rocky shoals protecting the north, east, and west of the island, and then scale a craggy cliff face 
  2. Land the ship on the southern, sandy dunes of the island.
While the choice seemed obvious, the party approached the southern beach cautiously… 

… death was certainly in the air.

[The beginning of this adventure is a little "railroady".  In the original adventure the party really has no choice but to land their ship on the southern shore.  I thought I'd give them at least the option to try going through the shoals, and was going to give them a navigational challenge, requiring careful maneuvering and possibly some of the characters braving the waves to dislodge the boat if it got stuck.  But they picked the beach.]

The Vikings rowed their ship to the shore, and prepared to set out towards the monastery.  Since she was the raid leader Brienne, short bow in hand, was the first ashore.  As soon as her feet touched the coast, however, the sound of twelve creatures rising out of the sand nearly took her by surprise.


Each of the boney monstrosities was the size of a man, possessing elongated fingers with claw-like talons at the end.  Brienne let loose an arrow before climbing back aboard the boat as the rest of the party prepared to defend themselves.  Four of the skeletons entered the waves while the remaining eight tried climbing aboard the boat.  While the Viking leaders stabbed and slashed with their spears and swords, they quickly realized that piercing and slashing weapons had little effect on the skeletons, although Hildenoore's flames worked nicely.  Through might and mettle the Vikings repelled their undead boarders, although it cost them poor Heidrick's life.  

[In the original adventure it was assumed that the party would land at the tip of the island, and possibly see a path of pirates leading all the way to the monastery.  If the party would follow this path they would be able to evade the skeleton attacks.  But Cheryl was very clear that she wanted to land at the edge of the island's beach, close to the shoals.  A better plan would've been to examine the shore closely before landing.  Sometimes with the old-school games I think that players forget that even though they may not have a "skill" at something (such as Spot, Notice, or Perception), they can still perform the action.]

The party searched the waves for the remaining four skeletons, but they were nowhere to be found.  No matter, grabbing their longship, the crew dragged the vessel ashore.  Since the bludgeoning weapons were working better than slashing or piercing, the raiders grabbed several of the skeletons' femurs to wield as clubs.  There was some brief discussion of leaving a few attendants behind to guard the ship, but in the end Brienne decided to take everyone on their journey inland.  

[This discussion lasted fifteen minutes at least.  The four skeletons in the water really caused some distress.  Where were they?  What were they doing?  The party would soon find out!]

Once everyone was assembled with their gear, the team of Viking raiders headed north.  But as soon as they were two-hundred feet from the shore another eleven skeletons came up through the sand!  Surrounded, the Vikings pulled together and defended each other.  They were better equipped to deal with the threat this time.  Using the holy might of Thor, Rolo repulsed half of the creatures, while a lit pot of oil thrown by Frelger's attendants set another two ablaze.  Even though this encounter was brief, it still claimed another life.  Poor Svafrlami had been torn limb from limb.  

[My wife's Wizard paid dearly during this encounter.  She missed a spellcasting roll for Flaming Hands by eight points, and was at risk for losing the spell for the rest of the day.  She freaked out a bit, because that was her only offensive spell, and I told her that she could Spellburn, which she did.  Her Strength, Agility, and Stamina all dropped, which she was fine with, but when I told her that her loss of Agility and Stamina cost her some hit points and saving throw bonuses she wasn't thrilled.]  

The Vikings realized that there could be skeletons all over the sand, and so they set up a "Goat/Dog Reconnaissance Plan" to reveal the locations of other undead.  Brienne was a herder, and had a fine sheepdog that could understand commands.  Ulf had a goat.  The initial plan was to send the goat ahead with a good slap on the rear, but the group realized that the animal would only travel a dozen feet or so before stopping.  Hence the need for the sheepdog.  The dog chased the goat, and the two ran out three hundred feet, revealing another fourteen skeletons.  When Brienne recalled her herding dog, however, it ran straight through the fourteen skeletons and was torn apart.  Sadly the dog died, but at least it revealed an important clue: the skeletons each guarded a specific area of the island, and wouldn't leave their guarded domains.

[This was some sharp thinking, and I'm not sure if this is how the author intended the scene to play out.  But I figured that the party could accidentally set off several dozen skeletons, which would almost certainly spell certain doom for the PC's.  So I came up with the idea of the skeletons staying put unless the party entered that "square" on the map.]

It took several hours, but slowly the party made their way north, causing some more skeletons to appear, only to have the Vikings retreat to a safe part of the beach.  Eventually they made it all the way through the dunes to the grassy hillside south of the monastery.  But when Brienne looked back to the boat, nearly a thousand feet away, she noticed four familiar creatures on the boat: the skeletons!  The creatures were standing on the deck, just waiting there for something to happen.  No matter, Brienne thought, they'd deal with the problem when they returned to the boat.

On their way to the abbey the party encountered a lone mule standing out in the sun.  Frelger checked the beast for traps, and it appeared safe.  Orr the Rutabaga Farmer seemed interested in another pack animal, so he fashioned a leather bridle and led the creature along with the rest of the party.  Even if they didn't come back with any other "goods", at least the mule was worth some gold pieces.

[One of the random encounters was a mule.  The adventure even goes so far as to instruct the DM not to award any experience points for any wanton mule-slaying.  Love it!]

Once the Viking raiding party made it to the ruins of the old monastery they realized that the most of the structure had not only been set aflame, but also picked through thoroughly.  There were organized piles of debris, and sorted remains of the old building.  Everything that wasn't made of stone was either burned, melted, or complete ash.  But there was still hope of reward.  A lone staircase descended into what once was the basement of the structure, and there was a flicker of torchlight emanating from the dim chamber!

Carefully Frelger descended the staircase, checking for traps, followed closely by Fafnir.  But as soon as the Ditch Digger set foot on the staircase a giant, eight foot wide black widow spider tore out of a pile of rubble, sinking its teeth into the attendant!  The rest of the party reared back, drawing their weapons.  The combined might of the remaining raiders proved too much for the spider to handle.  Although the creature fought to the death, it failed to cause any further injuries.  

[This battle could've been much deadlier, however I rolled poorly on initiative.  Next time.]

With grim determination, the group returned their gaze to Frelger.  With any luck the spoils of the abbey's basement would be worth the lives of three Vikings.  

… to be continued… 

The Crematorium

  • Heidrick - Slashed to death by skeletons.
  • Svafrlami - Torn apart by skeletons.
  • Fafnir - Masticated by a giant black widow.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hannibal's Wake - Adventure Summary & Design Notes

Behind the Screams

It is a pleasure contributing play summaries and adventure reports on Living 4 Crits.  Sure, remembering everything that happened during the previous day's game can be difficult, but I thoroughly enjoy reading the summaries months down the road.  Typically I write up the events that occur during play sessions in more of a story format, with a few quotes tossed in at the end.  Every once in a while I'll even include a game master's note, just to give the readers a glimpse on what's going on in my mind at any given time.

[GM's Note:  Maybe I'll bring up game mechanics, or some kind of crazy happening at the table that doesn't belong in the summary's text.]

This post will be a bit different from my typical adventure summary.  Not only will I be sharing the exploits of our Celtic Scouts from last night's Weird Wars Rome one-shot, I'll also be giving you continual snapshots of actual game mechanics and what went on in my head.  It's my hope that some of you can use some of the stuff I created in your own games, whether its the rules tweaks, pre-gen characters, or some of the actual scenes.  

Adventure Background

The year is 218 BC and the Second Punic War is about to begin.  Seven days ago the armies of Carthage, under the command of military mastermind Hannibal Barca, started their trek through the Alps into Italy.  The characters in this story are a small Celtic scouting party who belong to the Ceutrones tribe.  Their tribal leaders feared that the Carthaginians and their allies would devour and destroy everything in their path.  No creatures… including people for that matter… would be spared.   

An aging Gallic Mercenary captain, Orgetorix, led his team around the massive army of Carthaginians, taking count of their numbers and learning their path.  The lands behind Carthage's forces was completely devoid of animal life, and none of the former Celtic inhabitants remained.  Once the scouts realized that Hannibal would take his forces straight through the Ceutrones' village, they tried to return home, hoping to report their findings and evacuate their families.

Unfortunately a small company of Iberian mercenaries, under the command of a lieutenant named Derthos, discovered Orgetorix's squad.  The scouts were locked in animal cages, and placed under guard while a large fire pit was built.  The Iberian mercenaries looked were looking hungry…

… and their hungry eyes were staring at the scouts!
[The adventure title, "Hannibal's Wake", is inspired by "Punic Nightmare", Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast about the Punic Wars.  In the podcast, Dan talked about what it must have looked like to see this army of thirty-thousand or more humans along with horses and elephants passing through the Alps.  He discussed how some of the generals talked about getting their troops used to eating human flesh, because they knew food would be scarce.  Sometimes the best horror stories can come from humanity itself.]

Dramatis Personae

Since I run Hannibal's Wake as a convention compatible one-shot, I always have pre-generated characters ready.  It isn't often that players have spare Celtic Scout's in their game folders anyway.  Just in case you'd like to use these in your own game, here's a look at each build:

Orgetorix - Mercenary Captain, played by Alex
An aging soldier who has fought for several Celtic tribes, as well as some Italian and Roman generals. 
  • Attributes:  Agility d6,  Smarts d6,  Spirit d8,  Strength d6,  Vigor d6
  • Rank:  Novice (0 xp)
  • Pace:  5,  Parry:  6,  Toughness:  8(+2),  Charisma:  0
  • Edges:  Command, Pugilist [Martial Artist reskinned for Weird Wars Rome]
  • Hindrances:  One Eye, Obese, Stubborn
  • Skills:  Fighting d8, Riding d6, Persuasion d8, Knowledge: Battles d6, Notice d6, Intimidation d8
  • Starting Equipment:  Lorica Hamata Armor, Clothing, Blue Cape, Wineskin (empty), Metal Spoon

Duratios - Wolf-Blood Warrior, played by Andy

A "Celtic Berserker" with a terrible attitude and a penchant for disobeying orders. 
  • Attributes:  Agility d6,  Smarts d4,  Spirit d6,  Strength d8,  Vigor d8
  • Rank:  Novice (0 xp)
  • Pace:  6,  Parry:  7,  Toughness:  9(+2),  Charisma:  -4
  • Edges:  Berserk, Brawny
  • Hindrances:  Bloodthirsty, Big Mouth, Death Wish
  • Skills:  Fighting d10, Throwing d8, Notice d6, Swimming d4, Riding d6
  • Starting Equipment:  Horn Scale Mail, Clothing, Wineskin full of "clear brew", Fur Cloak, 3 Carrots

Gutuater - Gallic Scout, played by Daniel

Sharp-eyed, nimble, and resourceful, while not a warrior, this hunter occasionally helps his tribe track dangerous foes.
  • Attributes:  Agility d8,  Smarts d8,  Spirit d6,  Strength d4,  Vigor d6
  • Rank:  Novice (0 xp)
  • Pace:  6,  Parry:  4,  Toughness:  6(+1),  Charisma:  -2
  • Edges:  Woodsman, Quick
  • Hindrances:  Overconfident, Ugly, Vengeful
  • Skills:  Survival d8, Tracking d8, Stealth d6, Notice d6, Shooting d8, Fighting d4, Climbing d4
  • Starting Equipment:  Leather Armor, Clothing, Black Clay (3 uses, +2 Stealth until washed away), Sling

Viridovix - Druid, played by Steve

A mystical holy man who can hear the whispers of spirits.  
  • Attributes:  Agility d6,  Smarts d6,  Spirit d8,  Strength d8,  Vigor d6
  • Rank:  Novice (0 xp)
  • Pace:  6,  Parry:  5,  Toughness:  6(+1),  Charisma:  0
  • Edges:  Arcane Background (Miracles)
  • Hindrances:  Clueless, Pacifist, Vow
  • Skills:  Fighting d6, Notice d6, Throwing d8, Riding d6, Faith d10, Healing d4
  • Starting Equipment:  Leather Armor, Clothing, Heavy Fur Cloak, Hunting Horn, Antler Blade (Str +d4 Damage, weapon breaks if a 1 on the Fighting Die is rolled, regardless of the result of the Wild Die.)
  • Powers:  Beast Friend, Entangle

Hannibal's Wake

It was late afternoon and the Celtic scouting party was slowly realizing that they were in trouble.  Trapped in a well-guarded encampment with two dozen Iberian mercenaries, the scouts were individually bound and kept within animal cages.  At the center of the camp two enemy soldiers prepared a large fire pit, but unless the starving mercenaries were going to consume their horses, there was no other obvious food available.  The cages were under constant guard by three Iberians, each armed with a single spear.  

"Hey goatbugger, come over here and I'll show you what a 'real' man looks like!" the Wolf-Blood Warrior Duratios shouted to one of his captors.  

The guard smirked, and mentioned something to one of his partners but Duratios couldn't understand the words.  Like the Ceutrones, the Iberians were also of Celtic descent, however their language was still strange and hard to understand.  But not for the well traveled Gutuater.

The Gallic Scout caught Duratios' attention.  "He says they are going to eat you first."

Duratios continued to curse in his own tongue, nearly frothing at the mouth in anger.  One of the guards laughed and walked over to the fire pit where he started loading a small pot with hunks of fat.  During this scene, Gutuater overheard one of the nearby guards whisper to another something quite ominous.

"If we eat these men, do you think we will become like the others?" the guard said as he glanced into the forests.  Scanning the rest of the soldiers, the scouts realized an inordinate number of Iberians were keeping a lookout.  

[If the party didn't escape soon after this I was going to have the guards try to pour hot lard over Duratios causing 3d8 damage.]

Viridovix realized that the party needed to escape as soon as possible, and hidden beneath his cloak was an antler blade.  Unfortunately with his hands bound it would be very difficult to free himself.  Even so, he drew the blade in a way so that his friend Orgetorix could cut his own bonds.  

Once the druid and captain were free, Viridovix focused his efforts on creating a diversion.  There were a pair of horses nearby, and with the druid's Beast Friend spell Viridovix was able to get control of one of their minds.  Immediately the druid had the horse rear back and start bucking, throwing off the chariot to which it was attached.  It took six guards to hold the horse still.  Viridovix was proud of the distraction he created, and was about to cut the rest of the party free when Duratios grew impatient.

With a crash the Wolf-Blood Warrior stood straight up, pushed the cage off of himself, and broke a piece off to use as a club.  It was fighting time!

[An improvised weapon, the medium sized broken piece of cage would deal Strength +d6 damage.]

Three of the soldiers responded to the scene, the rest still focused on the horse.  Gutuater struck one with a sling stone, knocking him out cold.  When a thrown spear landed next to Duratios the crazed barbarian picked it up and charged the nearest Iberian.

"How do I taste now!" Duratios screamed as plunged the weapon deep within the guard's abdomen.  He was then struck by a spear.  With a mighty roar, Duratios cried to the heavens and went into a full rage!

[Courtesy of the "Berserk" edge in the Savage Worlds Deluxe rules… that edge, combined with Bloodthirsty and Deathwish ended up being a pretty tough choice for a pre-gen in an adventure with opportunities for subterfuge.  In the future if I run this game I may tone down this character.]

Before the last remaining guard could react, Gutuater struck him in the neck with an especially sharp sling-stone.  Cutting a deep gash into the soldier's neck, the Iberian had to hold the wound shut distracting him from the oncoming Wolf-Blood Warrior.  Duratios left the spear in his first foe, and grabbed for the wounded soldier's weapon.  But when the Iberian let go of his neck to brace the spear he bled out and died.

[Interesting resolution here.  Gutuater hit the guard with a raise, as did Duratios.  Rather than just have another "overkill" scene, it seemed more cinematic to have Gutuater's cool attack earlier have a lasting effect.]

With the guards down, the party of Celtic scouts decided to break free and run off… all but Duratios.  Orgetorix and Gutuater each fled camp, grabbing whatever they could find before making off into the nearby woods.  Viridovix was almost gone, until he realized that the Wolf-Blood Warrior was preparing to charge the remaining twenty-one Iberians.  With a few soothing words, the druid was able to calm his berserking friend, and the two followed their comrades.  Once outside the party took stock of the items they were able to acquire:  a dagger, a cudgel, a short bow with a quiver of arrows, a wineskin, and a strange chunk of meat.

[This was a place where Death Wish combined with an active Berserk edge could cause the demise of a party member.  Andy didn't seem very interested in disengaging from combat, and rightly so… he was playing the hindrances I gave the character.  So when Steve offered to have Viridovix sooth his friend I allowed a Persuasion roll.

For the three characters not going absolutely crazy with rage, I allowed a Notice roll to grab gear on the way out of camp.  A simple success of "4" meant the player grabbed a light weapon and a wineskin.  A raise gained the player character a unique weapon, in this case the short bow with arrows, and a piece of human flesh.  If consumed, the character would instantly realize what it was, causing "The Shakes" as per the Disorders Table in Weird Wars Rome.  A successful Spirit roll made at a -4 would allow the character to get rid of this disorder after a full day.]

Once in the forest, screams were heard from inside the camp.  Whatever the guards were trying to keep out must have made it through one of the gates.  

[What ate the Iberians?  Wendigos out of the Deadland Reloaded Marshal's Handbook!  A little tribute to "Ravenous", these terrors were waiting just outside of the camp's wooden palisade.  If they had climbed the timbers without creating a distraction, the Wendigos would've gone for the scouts, but I figured that the horse distraction definitely gave the monsters a chance to go after what they really wanted… the weakened mercenaries who had once been their kin.]

It was clear that there was no going back, so Gutuater weighed the options.  The scout knew three paths back to the Ceutrones' village:

  1. They could travel straight through Hannibal's encampments.
  2. They could take the cliffside path that led around the encampments.
  3. They could travel through a deep ravine below the encampments.  
Knowing that there was less risk of falling if they took the ravine pass, the party chose that route and set off.  Unfortunately it was incredibly dark and by the time they reached the ravine the party realized they would have to take the pass ten feet at a time.  At least the fires of the encampments above lit some of the path.  

[The team didn't want to set any fires or torches, and they certainly didn't want to make camp and wait for whatever devoured the Iberians.  Between the starlight, a crescent moon, and the light from Hannibal's camp I declared that it was just Dark, not Pitch Black as per the Savage Worlds Deluxe rules.]

Each step through the ravine was treacherous.  As Gutuater led the scouts, he used a spear to keep himself steadied in the inky blackness.  Perhaps taking pass on the cliff pass was a good idea, the party realized after finding several dead bodies lying at the bottom of the ravine.  It was a long drop from the encampments, and falling along a rocky cliff had a terrible effect on a body.  But as they walked amongst the corpses, a cold feeling drifted over the scouting party.

"Earth, air, land, and sea, tell me what be going on here be," Virodovix muttered to the spirits of nature.

The response was as expected: this place was cursed!

[I split the ravine into four segments.  Traveling through each segment required the lead character to make an Agility roll at a -2 penalty due to the darkness and the rocks.  Using the spear, I let Gutuater get offset the penalty.  The curse simply gave the party an additional -2 penalty to Spirit rolls to resist fear.  At the end of the second segment there was a surprise…]

Eventually Gutuater came to a large object blocking their path.  Easily ten to twelve feet wide, the smooth object seemed out of place compared to the craggy ravine's typical boulders.  Believing it was just one more obstacle to navigate, the Gallic Scout carefully climbed above the mass and started helping Duratios across when the warrior lost his footing and fell onto the object…

… and struck its fleshy surface.  

This object was not a stone, but rather a large dead war elephant! 

[Steve foreshadowed this scene perfectly outside of character: "Please, please, please don't let this be an undead elephant."]

Disturbed by the living, the body of the elephant started to move and shift.  Slowly the bones of the once majestic creature pulled up through the flesh, and sloughed off decaying muscle and fat.  As the party stared in terror, a massive undead War Skel-ephant prepared to charge!

*     *     *

War Skel-ephant

I used the War Elephant found on page 88 of Weird Wars Rome, combined with the Undead Monstrous Abilities from Savage Worlds Deluxe.  I wanted the creature to be difficult, but not impossible to fight for a group of four novice characters so I had to make a few changes:
  • Toughness 16(2) rather than the 20(2) it would be if I really combined the 18(2) of the elephant with the +2 Toughness of Undead.  I didn't want a TPK!
  • Once during the encounter the War Skel-ephant could cause fear at a -2 penalty (-4 with the ravine's curse). 
I have to apologize to the players now for forgetting that as a Huge creature they would have a +4 bonus to hit.  Oops.  

*     *     *

Immediately Gutuater fired a volley of arrows while Orgetorix tried his spear and Viridovix his club.  None of these weapons seemed to have an effect.  That's when Duratios let out a mighty roar!  

Charging the creature, the Wolf-Blood Warrior grabbed the Skel-ephant's ribcage and pinned the beast against the wall in an amazing feat of strength and resolve!

[Yes, Andy rolled a successful Grapple against a Size +8 creature thanks to massively exploding dice, a dismally poor roll for the War Skel-ephant, and lots of benny usage.  I allowed the Grapple to distract the beast (granting +2 to hit), since there was no chance in hell that Duratios could cause damage to the War Skel-ephant with his arms… or so I thought.]

To further keep the creature from charging, a successful Entangle spell from Viridovix locked up the War Skel-ephant's legs.

[I really thought the party would try fleeing at this point.  That's what happened the last time I ran the adventure straight through back in 2013.  But no… that's not how this played out.]

Unable to move, the War Skel-ephant emitted a wave of fear, causing both Gutuater and Orgetorix to flee in terror.  The Mercenary Captain stumbled while running, almost knocking himself unconscious as he fell into a pit.  The War Skel-ephant then made the mistake of knocking Duratios against a wall, causing him to become shaken momentarily, but more importantly inciting a berserking rage.  The mighty Duratios started to squeeze the ribs of the War-skelephant, cracking two of them.

[Yes, Duratios did enough damage, 17 total, to "shake" the War Skel-ephant, although the Hardy special attribute limited the effectiveness.]

The War Skel-ephant kept up the attack, alternating its attack on both Viridovix and Duratios.  The druid dodged an impalement, but the berserker was thrown onto the ground.  Grabbing a nearby spear, dropped earlier by Gutuater, Duratios charged the behemoth.  The vicious strike broke the connection between several ribs and the spine.  A second hit immediately after broke the creature in half…

… the War Skel-ephant crumbled!  

Cheering, Viridovix ran up to Duratios to embrace his friend in triumph.  Duratios returned the "hug" with a spear to the gut, instantly killing the druid.

[This was a very twisted scene!  Here's how it played out.  Andy was rolling to hit the War Skel-ephant, but was rolling poorly.  After some benny-usage, he finally came up with a hit and a raise on the wild die, but a "1" on the Fighting die.  Great hit, but this meant that an adjacent ally would be struck as well… thanks to the Berserk edge.  Andy went with the attack and caused 20 damage to the War Skel-ephant killing it.  He then rolled 28 damage against Viridovix.

This is the first time I've ever seen one player kill another accidentally… congrats Andy!]

With the both the creature and Viridovix gone, Orgetorix and Gutuater carefully approached the scene.  Duratios was finished raging, at least for the moment.  Taking the bloody spear from Duratios' hands, Gutuater went back to leading the party out of the ravine.  It took another hour of trudging through dead soldiers and broken stone paths before reaching the end of the ravine and a trail leading away from the Carthaginians encampment.

With a little luck the scouts could let the rest of the Ceutrones know that death was coming.  



There were few other encounter that could've been a lot of fun, if the party had taken those routes:
  • As I mentioned before, there were three Wendigos that were hunting for meat, and would attack the party if they tried to camp.
  • Lighting a fire while in the ravine would cause an archer attack from the Carthaginians above.
  • The party could've taken the chariots and there would've been a chase scene with Iberians on horseback.  
I hope this gives you a little insight into how I run a Savage Worlds game.  If you have any ideas to help make this adventure any better (because I'll probably run it again) please let me know!  Also if you happen to use any of these characters or encounters I'd love to hear the tales!

If you enjoyed this game concept, please take the time to check out Pinnacle Entertainment Group's page for Weird Wars Rome!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Steamless Summer Sales

Not a Steamy Summer

Last summer I wrote a blog post called "Letting Off Steam."  Essentially it was a commentary on my drifting away from electronic gaming and towards tabletop gaming.  I listed the few games I picked up, keeping myself to $15, and all of the promising tabletop games that I wanted to play.  I also discussed my lack of time to knock out multiple video games, since I was running so many RPG's.  Well another year, and another Steam Sale has come and gone with me spending just under $15…

… shame on all of you who can't control your Steam spending… SHAME!

While some of you were filling your virtual carts with new PC titles during the mid-June sales on Steam and, I went out and grabbed a few tabletop titles that caught my eye…

East Texas University

Two Friday's ago, just before our family left for a big vacation in scenic Delaware, I received word of Melior Via's impending Kickstarter for The Thin Blue Line.  After checking out the website for this Detroit Cop meets modern horror RPG, the first thing I thought of was Robocop.  But the second thing I thought of was a cross-over with East Texas University, a Savage Worlds campaign setting released back in 2014.  I'd love to run that kind of game (probably with some of my typical sick twists) but I had a serious problem…

… I didn't own ETU!

During the drive to Delaware I purchased the PDF for ETU's campaign guide.  I read the book cover to cover, and with visions of Community meets True Blood dancing in my head, purchased the hardback, the Degree's of Horror Plot Point Campaign, the GM's screen & adventure, and a couple of maps.  I imagine I could've purchased quite a few computer games for the same price.  Expect a review on Living 4 Crits - Late Knights next week!  My wife got a kick out of the concept, so I also plan on bringing this setting to my Saturday night live players.

You may note that I've included pictures of my brand spanking new hardbacks for The Last Parsec, another phenomenal campaign setting by Pinnacle Entertainment Group for Savage Worlds.  Although we've run several adventures for TLP over the last nine months, its all been via the Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion and the PDF that released immediately after the successful Kickstarter.  Imagine my insane delight upon coming home from vacation on Sunday to find the ETU books waiting, and then on Monday getting some extreme, space-faring goodness in the mail!  

So technically this isn't part of my Steamless Summer, but I'm proud of these books, and this Kickstarter, and they deserve some respect.  

If you're interested in seeing what we did with The Last Parsec, check out our Disney Inspired tales here!

Lamentations of the Flame Princess (Mature Audiences Only)

What better way to follow up after a Disney related comment than mention that I took the Lamentations of the Flame Princess plunge!  As you may know, I'm a bit of an OSR aficionado, and I'm always on the lookout for a good old-school inspired title.  I considered Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord, but since I already own a ton of Basic Fantasy RPG stuff, I didn't think there was enough of a difference.  Perhaps the same is true for LotFP, but I was intrigued by two things: the Specialist class and the art.

If you are unfamiliar with LotFP, the Specialist is James Raggi's response to the Thief or Rogue in other RPG's.  The Specialist's skill system uses six-sided dice instead of percentile dice, and gives the players "choice" in how they want to focus the points they are assigned.  Perhaps they max out bushcraft and act more like a ranger, or focus on stealth and lock picking to be the perfect burglar.  The LotFP Specialist is a class I would play, whereas I've never felt interested in OD&D thieves.  

The art… oh the art of LotFP.  If you are over eighteen just "Google" it, and you'll see what I mean.  It's certainly like nothing I've seen before in an RPG, so it belongs on my shelf…

… you know… on that shelf really high up, where the kids can't find it of course.  

In addition to the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rulebook, I put an order in for Zak S.'s A Red & Pleasant Land.  The book's Alice in Wonderland'ish theme reminds me of "American McGee's Alice," a game I enjoyed back in the early 2000's.  I'll probably talk more about this book when it comes in the mail, but I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for it to arrive!  

Maybe the wife and I will play it when we are at Disney World… without the kids!

What about the $15?

So I did end up making a purchase on Steam's Summer Sale… one single purchase:

Darkest Dungeon

After a only few hours of play I have many ways to describe this terribly awesome (as in "terrible & awesome") experience:

  • It feels like Ravenloft with a sick and twisted DM.
  • It feels like what I expect Lamentations of the Flame Princess to feel like.
  • It feels like Accursed without bennies.
  • It feels like a realistic simulation of what Castlevania would be like for everyday people.

Great game, go out and buy it, even if its not on sale.

*     *     *

I bet I wasn't the only person making tabletop purchases during the Steam Summer Sale.  What games did you pick up?  

Saturday, June 20, 2015

#GetOutAndGame - Sandy Savage Worlds

Everything's Beachy

When our family chose 50 Fathoms as our next campaign, we had an upcominig summer vacation in mind.  Since my parents live in Delaware, we try to get to the shore whenever possible.  Rehoboth, Bethany, Lewes, the kiddos really love getting into the waves and its only a forty-five minute drive from my parents' house to the closest beach.  But what better way to celebrate our time at the beach this year than to bring along some Savage Worlds and character sheets for an exciting #GetOutAndGame event? 

I've never heard of someone running a role-playing game on a beach, so maybe we'd be the first. 

As you can see, the kiddos had no problems or concerns with this arrangement.  Role-playing on the beach meant more time in the sand, so why not?  But my wife and I needed to do some planning.  We would need to resolve the following:
  • Location, location, location
  • Suitable playing surface
  • Dice, bennies, playing cards, and all the accoutrements a good Savage needs for a game
Our plan was to run the game on a Friday, so Rehoboth Beach would be packed.  Lewes Beach, located a few miles north of Rehoboth, isn't as "built up", so we would have more room to set up our tent.  Also, the waves are much lighter, and the waters shallower.  For three kids who don't swim very often we feel more comfortable at Lewes. 

While Carrie, Evie, Cooper and I splashed around in the water, my wife Jennifer took time setting up a nice blanketed surface for gaming.  Our sandy feet would stay clear of the books and sheets, and for the most part everything made it away unscathed.  For dice we used Cooper's big blue foam monsters, and I brought along a regular deck of playing cards.  Actually the only thing affected by the beach conditions were the playing cards.  Perhaps due to the heat and humidity the cards started to bend after use.  Weird.

One of the coolest things we did though was gather bennies for our game!  Typically we use poker chips for bennies, but I told the kiddos that I left them at home.  Instead of boring, plain bennies, we would be using stuff we found in the water!  Gathered seashells and stones would be used to both hold down our character sheets as well as let the players reroll.  We ended up with several dozen bennies, and I felt bad making the kids choose which "three" they wanted to use for the game. 

I think they believed they would have as many bennies as they could collect... nice try kids...

All in all it was a great time!  We played during a forty-five minute snack break with a few onlookers.  Maybe next time we'll get some other families involved!

The Brave Crew of the Titanic Nemo

  • Captain Jacqueline Crane - Human Elementalist, played by Evie
  • Skylar Shipshape - Masaquani Assassin, played by Carrie
  • Dori - Doreen Hunter, played by Mommy
  • Foxy - Clockwork* Pirate, played by Cooper
    • *Built using the "Construct" race option

 From Captain Crane's Log

Good thing we grabbed so many "bennies!"  Some were needed for the character sheets.

A Bad Day on the High Seas

Day 5

For two days the crew of the Titanic Nemo, the newly christened skiff under the command of Captain Jacqueline Crane, enjoyed blue skies and fair winds.  The air was warm, and the sun hot, but as the vessel sliced through each wave the crew dreamt of their return to civilization.  With Captain Crane's amazing elemental mastery the Titanic Nemo would make port in just three to four days!  

John Smith, a member of the crew, could think of nothing better than returning to Brigandy Bay, and the beautiful lady he wooed just a few months earlier.  Perhaps she was still waiting for his return.  While checking the rigging, John Smith sat on the port rail and closed his eyes.  He imagined his lovely lass wrapping her arms around his waist.  The brave young sailor could almost feel her tender arm squeeze him tightly...

... no, he could definitely feel her tender arm squeezing...

... perhaps a bit too tightly...

When John Smith finally opened his eyes, waking from a beautiful daydream, he saw the rest of the crew staring, their faces bereft of color.  It wasn't a lovely lady's arm around poor John Smith's waist...

... it was the tentacle of a giant octopus!

Miraculously my 50 Fathoms book was kept free of water and sand!

With a quick snap the English sailor was hoisted high into the air!  Dori, the ship's Doreen Hunter, jumped to her feet and lobbed one of her trusty harpoons into the rogue tentacle as it hefted poor John Smith out of the Titanic Nemo.  Although the Doreen's aim was true,  the torn tentacle still dragged the sailor down into the sea.  For a moment the waters were quiet and still, and Captain Crane thought the terrible beast was satisfied...

... until the giant octopus decided to capsize the ship!

With a great smash the Titanic Nemo was knocked over, spilling the crew into the warm sea.  Foxy was the first to get a look at the beastie, his mechanical eyes locking on to his new target.  The giant octopus was longer than the Titanic Nemo, and certainly more massive than the tiny, thirty-foot long sailboat.  Realizing that his trusty axe was still on board, Foxy relied on his terrible hook to fend off the eight-legged monstrosity.  With incredible speed, the clockwork fox swam up to the octopus' body and buried his hook into the creature's eye.  Trying to get away from this dangerous new threat, the giant octopus let go of the ship. 

[GM's note:  I had to give my son a benny for this scene.  After making his Swimming check with two raises, I asked Cooper if he wanted to stay in the water and attack with his axe, or get on board the ship.  When playing an RPG with a four-year old its always best to give a choice of two options rather than ask "what do you want to do?"  Cooper looked at me seriously and said, "I forgot my axe, I only have my hook."  What a great complication!  So I gave him a benny for the idea and then let him make the attack.  He proceeded to roll twenty damage to the creature after a crazy.  Just one of the many reasons I love the Savage Worlds system... anything is possible!]

Big dice!

While Foxy defended the crew, Dori righted the vessel and Captain Crane climbed aboard.  Skylar Shipshape and Dori jumped aboard soon after.  The captain made the choice to press the attack on the giant octopus rather than try and save the crew.  Drawing upon her elemental mastery, Captain Crane blasted a flopping tentacle with a hypersonic air-bolt, rending it completely from the creature's body.  The loss of blood, from harpoon, hook, and magic, finally overcame the giant octopus, and it sank into the murky depths. 

The captain took count and realized that much of the crew was still overboard.  Dori, still in the water, was able to save Senor Miguel Figuroa and Caras Cath, while Foxy dragged the Scurillion Tellaris back on board.  Sadly, Caras' twin brother, Cais, was nowhere to be found. 

After a short ceremony, commemorating the losses of John Smith and Cais Cath, Captain Crane summoned forth a Zephyr to fill the sails, and propel the Titanic Nemo further along on its voyage. 

Ship's Position:  5 days out, 155 miles from Brigandy Bay.