Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Absence Makes the List Grow Longer

Space Kraken.  Dangerous and Delicious.
     It has been many months since I have had time to write for the blog.  In the interim, the Sunday Night Pathfinder campaign has moved on, and gotten substantially stranger.  I have a lot to cover even to sketch the outline of the campaign -- there has been sabotage, inter-dimensional travel, regicide, space-based taco entrepreneurialism, and a variety of characters popping in and out.  I am on a big writing push right now,l which often pushes me to write more blog posts, so we'll see.  I am going to try to fill in bits and pieces for my own amusement, and get to the point where I can give session updates that are not nonsense.  
     In non-Pathfinder news, I picked up the new Iron Kingdoms RPG from Privateer Press, and am left with mixed impressions.  I really like the setting and the rules work well for resolving big, fast, deadly combats, but the skill system seems a little bit like an afterthought.  Without taking it for a test-drive, I'd say that the rules as written need a lot of tender love and house-ruling, and that the book is not as in-depth and gritty as the previous D&D 3.5 iteration.  A full review might be in my future, but for now I am knocking together some material for a future campaign and some of that material is destined for the blog.  It'll be tagged as Iron Kingdoms, to differentiate it from Sunday Night material. No promises, but I do have a book full of ideas, and some of them might just be worth the typing . . .

Much of the campaign has been just about like this . . . . 

Tobin Larks, Ex-Cygnaran Trencher.
Journal of Tobin Larks, Caspia, Kingdom of Cygnar.  608 AR

     I found Finnegan Braddock sitting at the Red Mare, in the dockside district of Caspia. My old captain had told me that Finn’s Free Company used the Mare as a base when they were in town, and I spotted them the minute I came in the door.  I dropped my pack and rifle at the bar and walked over to make my introductions.
     “Excuse me.  Are you Sir Braddock?
     The man with the wild red hair looked up from his ale and looked me over.
     “Finn Braddock, at yer service.  No “sirs” involved.  What can I do for you?”
     “My name is Tobin Larks, Sir, er, Mr. Braddock, and I am here to apply for a position in your company.  Here are my references, from previous commanders.” I handed him the thick sheaf of parchment. He took them, glanced at the seals, and handed them to the man sitting next to him. 
     “How’d you hear we were lookin?”
     “Dougal Becks of the city guard is an old friend.  He told me, and I looked you up immediately.”
Braddock laughed gently to himself.  “Is that so?  Well, if Dougal likes you, you can’t be all bad.          Godwin?”  He glanced at the massive man next to him, who was looking over the recommendations. The man had a long jagged scar running from his forehead to his chin, and rubbed at it as he handed the parchment back.
     “Looks good on paper.”
     “Huh,” said Braddock.  “Have a seat kid.” He gestured to the empty chair opposite him, and glanced at the parchment.
     “So you were Cygnar infantry, huh?  Where’d you serve?”
     I sat down, and waived for an ale.  “I was a Trencher in the 3rd Army.  Served on the coast, defending against Cryx.”
     “How many actions?”
     “I was in the field two years, and .  .”
     “How many stand up fights?” said the huge man next to Braddock.
     “Well.  Two, sir.  The Havarak Coast siege and the defense of Fuller Village.”
     The huge man sipped his ale.  “Fuller Village was a big fight.  So you’ve seen a little action, huh?”
     “Yes sir.  A bit.”
The huge man offered an equally massive hand. “I am sir Godwin Albrecht, formerly of the Stormblades.  “Nice to meet you.”
     “It’s an honor, sir.”
     “Bah.  None of that, kid. Well, Braddock, he seems . . “
     An axe thudded into the table, and shortly behind it came a massive Trollkin, green-blue hide peeking out between  rough leather and mail.
     “Who’s the kid?”
     “Kid, meet Grimley Mossback, lead scout of the Free Company.  What’s the word, Grim?  Where’s Mort?”
     “I’m right here, you ass.”  A small green gobber climbed into the chair next to me, and grabbed my ale.  “Looks like we got a job.”
     A woman sitting at the rough bar walked over and sat down next to Mort.  She wore a dark cloak over dark leather, and twin pistol handles stuck out from beneath the cloak. 
     “Finally.  I am getting bored.”
     “The meet went fine.  Couple of local magistrates from a town about a week west.” Grimley Mossback snatched a pitcher of ale from a passing waitress and took a long pull.
     “What’s the job?” asked Braddock.
     “It’s a headhunt.  The village has been attacked by a band of Farrow who set up shop nearby.  They want us for house cleaning.  They’re offering 10 crowns a head for killing the Farrow, with another 50 if we get the chief.”  Mort poured a few drops of a pink liquid into his beer, then sipped it. 
     “That is not much.  Anything up front for travel?”
     “Not a coin.  But it’s what we’ve got.”
     ‘Where’s Kaylee?”  Braddock looked around the bar.
     “She’s at the smithy, getting parts for Lug.  She votes yes.” said Mort.
     “I’m for it.  I like hunting pig.”
     The woman stared at the table for a long moment.  “I vote no.  I say we wait for something better.”
     Mort finished his ale and belched loudly. 
     “I wanna do it.  I’m tired of being broke, and the coffers are running low.”
     Braddock considered for a long moment. “Alice, I wish there was more gold in it, but Mort’s right.  I vote yes.  We’ll take the contract.”
     “Excellent.” Said Mort. 
     “What’s the plan, boss?” Grimley polished off his ale and leaned forward, the table creaking under him.
     “We leave tomorrow.  Mort, you and Kaylee lay in supplies and pack the wagon.  Grim, see what you can find out about the area, and plan a route. Alice, you and Godwin are in charge of reloads --- we need powder and rounds before we leave town.  I’ll meet with the magistrates and sign the contract. Oh, and somebody find Crowley.  Try the gambling dens.”  He glanced at me. “Can you leave town tomorrow morning, kid?”
      “I . . yes sir.  I can.”
     “Everybody, meet . . . what’s your name again?”
     “Tobin Larks, sir.”
     "Meet Mr. Larks.  He’s our new rifleman, on a trial basis.  If you work out, kid, you’ll get a full share and a position with the company.  If not, a half share or a Farrow spear in yer gut.  What do you think?”
     “Sign me up, sir.”
     Braddock stood up and dropped some coins on the table. ‘This round’s on me.  Let’s get moving, people --- we’ve got a job to do.”
     The massive Trollkin Grimley slapped me hard on the back. “You any good with that bang-stick?”
     “Best shot in my regiment, sir.”
     “Don’t sir me, kid.  I work for a living.  And now you do too.  Welcome to the Company.”  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Wayfarer's Kit

Field Report from Simon Mendelsohn (Apprentice Mage) to the Pathfinder Chapter in the City of Almas:

Dear Sirs,

     My travels with the caravan of adventurerer mentioned in the last letter continues.  We recently encountered an odd character on the road, and offered aid in the form of spell and sword.  On the plains south of Egorian, we met with a man called Vishnu the Liar, who was being pursued by summoned air elementals, the wrath (he claimed) of a distant enemy.  We aided him in dispatching these elementals, and offered him food and safety for a night.  The man told wild tales of travel to other planes of existence, though he had indulged heavily in the whiskey supply of Porks, our cook, and gave his own appelation as "the Liar."  In the morning, he used rather advanced magics to summon us a reward for our aid, then disappeared into the wastes.
     A rosewood box labelled as a "Wayfarer's Kit" was the most interesting of his gifts.  Within this small box were a pair of magical scrolls and a small roll of vellum explaining their use.  Each of the scrolls was capable, when the inscription was read, of transporting a large group of people to any place that they had knowledge of --- the box could easily have taken us to Absalom or Egorian, and the vellum implied that even more exotic locations were possible.  The scrolls were presumably paired to allow transport to and from a place, and they radiated a strong aura of magic clearly visible to those with The Sight.  At the base of the box is a small sigil unknown to me, which appears to be a maker's mark.  It may be that where Vishnu the Liar comes from, such kits are commonly produced, though they clearly represent a scale of magic common only to Archmages.

Simon Mendelsohn

One additional note: On the back side of the vellum, in a crude had, had been scribbled several names, presumably of cities.  To my knowledge, none of these are the names of cities known to the geographers of Golarion, though the learned scholars of the Society may correct me.  The list is reproduced faithfully here:

Escumbia the Bright





The Hollow Sphere


The Sleeping City of Aesenof

How many miles is that by wagon?  Oh hell no . . . . 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Jon "Grishnak" Doe

Marching towards doom again, eating only hard tack and goblin?  Sure, why not?

Orcs have a pretty sad lot in life.  They're usually nasty, brutish creatures, pulled forth from the ether to act as cannon fodder for marauding bands of PCs looking for a quick gold fix.  Quick to anger, none too tough and just dangerous enough to be scary, Orcs get used a lot.  Most don't even get names, unless they are nasty bosses with names like Gutrender and Gorkus One-Eye.  Sure, they get detailed in some campaign settings and recent books (Eberron even tried some sort of peaceful nature-orcs), but one gets the feeling that for every fleshed-out orc with a back-story there is a ravening horde of green-skinned monsters, waiting to die for the chance at a lucky stab at a player character.  
     So here's the deal.  I have this orc here, and he needs a story:

Who am I again?

Where's he from?  Some cessspit under a gloomy mountain? The orcish zepplin fleet?  New York City?

What makes him tick?  Why does he get up in the morning?  Where'd he get that awesome belly band?

Write me a quick history of John Doe Orc here, and stick it in the comments.  I'll pick one and put him in my game and see if he gets killed.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mapping the Imaginary

     I think of myself as an old-school guy.  I started out drawing my own maps and making up my own worlds for rpgs I was playing.  My best moments as a GM have come when I went off-script or off-setting to create something unique for my players.  But I am also a junkie for imaginary worlds, and for the kind of unique world-building that has been done by game developers over the last thirty years.  This bad boy lives on my bedside table most of the time.  I love the grim/dark feel of Warhammer's Old World, enjoyed my time in Eberron and Athas.  A good GM can take worlds that other people have written up and make them their own, but in my experience there is always a tension between staying true to the setting and telling your own stories.
     I am very impressed by what the guys over at Paizo are doing with Golarion, the setting for their Pathfinder game.  At a time when Wizards of the Coast is taking D &D in a decidedly protected, "buy our stuff" mode, Paizo is taking the Open Gaming License idea even further than WOTC, and allowing some of the fluff that comes out as part of their print line to be used by the community.  I just signed on to use their "community use" package, which comes with some great stuff and fairly easy to understand rules about how you can use 'em.  This is good, because Y'cak keeps bugging me for maps.  So, here's one, courtesy of Paizo:

My current game is set in Golarion, mostly in southern Avistan.  I use some Paizo print material, but re-purpose and re-write while we play, putting what I need where I need it.  Luckily, the world is big enough that there are lots of blank spots to fill, details to tweak, and ways to make the world feel the way I want it to. 

Here's the text I am supposed to post for using the map:

This website uses trademarks and/or copyrights owned by Paizo Publishing, LLC, which are used under Paizo's Community Use Policy. We are expressly prohibited from charging you to use or access this content. This [website, character sheet, or whatever it is] is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Paizo Publishing. For more information about Paizo's Community Use Policy, please visit paizo.com/communityuse. For more information about Paizo Publishing and Paizo products, please visit paizo.com.

Throwing Bones

Gambling games are an excellent way to turn this . . . . 
"Bones" is a popular dice game originally played by  Varisian travellers, but now popular in gambling dens and inns throughout Golarion.  There are myriad local variants, and each Keeper has his or her own style.  The generally agreed upon rules are detailed below:

The Game

The game is run by the house or a "Keeper" who throws the Skull.  This is a single die carved of dense bone, usually with twenty sides (thorugh some skulls have twelve, ten or eight sides).  The players each purchase "bones" --- dice with the same number of sides as the Skull ---- for the cost of the buy-in (usually a copper or silver piece).  All players roll their dice at the same time.  Each Bone that rolls higher than the Skull pays out double, with ties going to the house.   Bones that roll below the Skull are losses or lost souls.


The Keeper will sometimes call a "trip," a number that pays out triple (or more) if it is rolled on a bone.  Generally, if the skull roles a trip, it is a blanket win for the house.

Down the Steps
Players can choose to go "down the steps," choosing to throw a die smaller than the skull (such as a twelve sided bone against a 20 sided skull).  Each step down increases the payout by a factor of one (while reducing the odds of winning).

The Chasm and the Keep
These often used rules mean that bones that roll a 20 (the Keep) pay out triple, while any bone that comes up a 1 (the Chasm) makes all other bones rolled by the player into lost souls.  These rules are not usually combined with playing down the steps.

 . . . into this.  AS if my players needed help starting fights.

Gm Note:
We played a variant of this game one night when most of my players had gone home, and it was pretty fun.  The odds are pretty close to even, depending on rules variants, so nobody lost or made too much money over the course of several games.  I'm thinking that this will come up again, with the newly codified rules.

Clockspittle Lock'Orange

     Last night my wife yelled something at me from another room which sounded like "Clockspittle Lock'Orange?"
     And I said "You mean the famous gnomish pirate?"
     She did not.  She meant something entirely ordinary like "Stop leaving the bathroom light on."  But then she wanted a bedtime story.   So here it is:

     Clockspittle Lock'Orange was born into a family of industrious gnomish tinkerers with blonde hair.  The Lock'Oranges had maintained the Grand Clock of Egorian for ten generations uninterrupted, and made their home in the clock itself. Clockspittle was a remarkable child, but only in the sense that he was neither  industrious nor blonde, the hallmarks of his family.  The Lock'Orange penchant for hard work was twisted in him into a sort of brilliant cunning, and Clockspittle has always valued cleverness over hard work.  At the age of ten he could be found running the streets of Egorian with local toughs, booby-trapping the city watchmen's barracks and removing parts from anything not chained down.  When his family asked him to leave the giant clock, he graciously complied, heading to sea on the next ship that left the docks.  It took him only a few months to fall in with a crew of pirates, and not much longer to ascend to captaincy.
     Captain Clockspittle Lock'Orange has become infamous for his unconventional tactics and unparalleled success.  Early successes landed Clockspittle a large pile of gold bullion, which he invested in refitting his ship and hiring a competent, loyal crew.  His ship, the Cotter Pin, is a marvel of modern technology --- among the first refits were an experimental steam turbine which runs twin paddle wheels on the side of the galleon, giving it extra speed and maneuverability.  Rigging and sails are controlled largely by clockwork servitors, freeing the crew for combat.  More recently, Clockspittle has had all the hatches and gun ports covered in oiled leather, and has installed an adjustable ballast system.  This allows the Cotter Pin to seal itself and sink beneath the waves, sitting just below the surface to ambush merchant ships.  The twin masts have been hollowed out like giant snorkels, and an elaborate mirrored periscope allows Captain Clockspittle to watch for prey from his underwater raider.  Many a ship has surrendered quickly after the Cotter Pin rose to the surface amidships, guns trained and ready.
     Clockspittle is a successful pirate, but also remarkably fair.  He accepts surrenders in exchange for three quarters of all coin and valuables on board a ship, and will often take hostage only the captain, treating him or her to lavish hospitality until a suitable port can be found as a drop-off point.  His men are all well armed with the most modern matchlock pistols and rifles, and can generally outgun merchantmen and escape fights they can't win.  Several nations of the Inner Sea have taken to hiring the Cotter Pin to harass the shipping of their enemies, either covertly or with privateer warrants.  Clockspittle has thus retained safe ports of call throughout the Inner Sea, though he is rumored to make berth on a secret island workshop near Mediogalti island.

The Cotter Pin explores a region of the Frozen Sea.