Thursday, 26 July 2012


I've recently gone in on a few Indiegogo campaigns. I went in on James Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess hardcover campaign, which was funded along with one stretch goal. However, by the appearences of Raggi's next campaign, he's failed his Sanity check. 19 inter-related campaigns, each needing $6,000 of funding to run, but with the perks for big pledges dependant on other campaigns being funded (i.e. pledge $20 for the print+pdf copy of the adventure = no risk // pledge $100 for the print+pdf of this adventure and up to five others = $120 of books, maximum, but very likely much less). Crazy. Nevertheless, it looks like some will fund, with Jeff Rients' Broodmother Sky Fortress currently just shy of the $6,000 mark.

Award-winning (it counts, doesn't it?) adventure designer Kelvin Green has an adventure in the crazy campaign - Horror Among Thieves. I've contributed to this campaign. And, remember, James Raggi has failed his Sanity check, so:

There's just 6 days to go on these campaigns.

But that's not all. Graeme Bottley, re-animator of Advanced Fighting Fantasy, has an Indiegogo campaign running, to fund not only the republication of the classic Blacksand book, but its expansion. With just a $3,000 target, and well over a month remaining, this looks like it is almost certain to meet its target. Now, I've gone for the softcover, but if you're a fan of big beautiful books, higher contribution levels might well get you something special.

And finally, the Indiegogo campaign for OpenQuest Remastered / OpenQuest 2 will go live very soon. Another campaign well worth funding.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

'Advanced' Skills in Hammerstein!

Hammerstein! is [going to be] a d100 skills-based game. My first draft of the Hammerstein! 'Skills' chapter, obviously built on the equivalent OpenQuest and Renaissance chapters, renames 'common skills' as 'aptitudes' : "those skills in which everyone, by dint of natural capacity or commonality of human socialisation, has some ability."

Here's my first attempt to describe 'Advanced Skills':

"In Hammerstein!, skills beyond the list of aptitudes are classed as Languages, Lores, and Crafts. These are skills that require training or experience in order to have any grasp of the basics. While the Hammerstein! basic game provides a range of examples of skills of these kinds, there are, potentially, a vast number of these skills – a GM (and players) with a taste for granularity could decide that each craft specialism, no matter how obscure, should have its own Craft skill, that all dialects deserve their own Language skill, and that every minute field of knowledge is defined by differentiated Lore skills. Hammerstein! does not recommend this approach. Keeping the Language, Lore and Craft skills broadly defined ensures that players can develop competent, rounded characters with skills that benefit adventuring. If it becomes necessary to differentiate the abilities of a character with Craft (Farming), whose background is in arable farming, from those of a character with Craft (Farming), whose background is in dairy farming, the GM might want to consider just what kind of fantasy adventure role-playing game that he is running. If there is still a need to differentiate, use difficulty modifiers and common sense."

Bandits and Farmers... might have high % skills but they're not the 'rock star' adventurers of Hammerstein!

Of course, the chapter then continues for [too] many thousands of words describing just the kind of skills that I consider are appropriate for fantasy adventure roleplaying. Lately, though, I've been thinking about collapsing these skills further still. First, Languages, Lores, and Crafts are all the same kind of thing - bodies of knowledge and capacities for action that require some specific training or experience not covered by basic human socialisation.

Second, I've been thinking of adopting the ideas that I'd been using to deal with 'advanced' combat abilities to cover 'advanced' or granulated forms of the basic aptitudes. Here's what I mean: I've always been disatisfied with the tendency in d100 games to allow a character to have 100% skill using a sword but only 20% skill using a dagger, or 80% in Influence but just 15% in Seduction (or whatever). So OpenQuest, with its collapsed skill list, really appeals (as does Legend / 'new' Runequest with its combat styles). Nevertheless, I like the individualisation and characterfulness of the differentiated skill system, as an idea, even if I don't like it in play.

So, with regard to combat I have been taking my lead from WFRP1e - most weapons are covered by the Close Combat or Ranged Combat skills, and basic unarmed combat is covered by the Unarmed Combat skill. Some weapons or advanced techniques, however, need more training. In Renaissance, these are given their own % skill rating. In Hammerstein!, these will be learned as 'proficiencies' - if you have been trained to use a polearm in combat, you can use it at your Close Combat skill %. If you have not, it is going to be Hard (-40%). As well as specialist weapons, there are also advanced techniques such as two weapon fighting - including sword and shield - and unarmed combat techniques. Most of these weapons and techniques provide those skilled in their use with options in combat that go beyond simply 'add X% points'. Learning one of these proficiencies, if not provided in the archetype, requires training and improvment rolls (two, three, more? I've not decided) and a roll against the relevant skill, with rolling under being a success - it is easier to learn new techniques the more advanced your ability in the basic skill.

I have already adopted this system to deal with literacy (related to the appropriate Language skill , but a high % does not necessarily = literacy), and the ability to swim (related to the Athletics skill). I had been musing over just where to draw the line with other skills. As with advanced combat techniques falling under the umbrella of the three combat skills, so do many advanced skills seem to be subdivisions of other aptitudes - particularly, but not limited to, Influence and specific Regional Lores. Does Hammerstein! need an Etiquette / Courtesy advanced skill, for example? I am leaning towards treating all those advanced skills for which an aptitude could be used as substitute as 'proficiences'. This allows two characters, both with Influence 80%, to have very different ways of putting the skill to use; one could have the Seduction proficiency, the other the Leadership proficiency. These would have the effect of altering the difficulty of tasks by one(?) step - i.e. a 20% bonus - for skill use in those narrow areas. This prevents skills such as Influence being an undifferentiated mixed bag, while also avoiding the sitiuation in which high Influence is for nought as advanced skills eat away at its niche, producing a skill proliferation that breaks the advancement system.
In short:

Aptititudes - everyone has got 'em, ability = %.

Languages, Lores and Crafts - skills for which an aptitude cannot act as a substitute, which need training or experience to learn, ability = %.

Proficiencies - the ability to use the above skills in specific ways, which need training or experience to learn, ability = you've either got it or you don't.

Yet more complications to a wonderfully elegant system. Why do I persist in breaking OpenQuest?

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Mystaran Bullet Points

So, I have established the key concepts that I am borrowing from Titan. As I wrote, these are the sort of things that I must continually remind myself of when building the world of Hammerstein!, else it degenerate into pseudo-historical beige, unfit for adventure. But what about Mystara – the D&D world so lovingly detailed in the Gazetteer and Creature Crucible supplements, and the Voyage of the Princess Ark? What can I take from this world, and what must I rule out?

1. Pseudo-Vikings as neighbours to mock-Arabia, which is right by fantasy Rome, is a feature not a bug. Variety is the spice of play. Every place should have a strong ‘theme’ – who wants to trek through umpteen ‘realistic’, barely distinguishable medieval towns? – and there need not be a ‘realistic’ logic to their arrangement [All the Gazetteers, essentially]. This complements onto point 3, 4 and 5 of the Titanic Lesson Plan.

2. The world is post-apocalyptic, and conceals hidden cities [B4 The Lost City] and lost valleys [B10 Night’s Dark Terror]. There were once powerful civilizations, and their treasures and secrets are waiting to be discovered, as well as their twisted, degenerate remnants [see also the DA Blackmoor series, and the Azcan, Oltecs, Nithians etc. of the Gazetteer prehistories and the Hollow World]. In Titan we have the War of the Wizards, Carseopolis, etc., but the more thoroughgoing the apocalyptic prehistory, the more dungeons there are in the world. See point 1 of the Titanic Lesson Plan.

3. Ships are cool. When, thousands of years ago, I moved on from the dungeon bashes of the D&D Basic Set and opened the blue box of the Expert Set, I was immediately excited by the idea that adventurers could not only explore the forests between the town and the dungeon, but they could buy, hire, or steal a boat and journey to the Isle of Dread. Or the Island of the Lizard King. Or explore the Seas of Blood. Sea travel, especially to islands, presents the possibility of filling the world with unexplored areas, and with cities and cultures that are radically thematically different. Again, this can keep the world small, varied, and civilization isolated (points 3, 4 and 5 of the Titanic Lesson Plan). Also, pirates.

4. If ships are cool, flying ships are cooler (but rare) [the Voyage of the Princess Ark, PC1 Top Ballista!]. These are present in Titan, too; there is at least one, the Galleykeep [Creature of Havoc, The Trolltooth Wars].

5. Mageocracies are fascinating. In small measures. Thus, Glantri > Alphatia. In a world of magic, at least some places will be the domain of wizards and sorcerers. Not all of these powerful magic users will be one of the multiple big bads of Titan. Indeed, given that the world is inherently fantastical, magic plays an important role in all societies, even those that are not ruled by magicians.

6. And finally, for now, adventurers are rock stars (see point 8 of the Titanic Lesson Plan). The only way I can fit something like GAZ 4 The Kingdom of Ierendi into a world that I could comfortably run is to combine Ierendi with Titan’s Fang [Deathtrap Dungeon and Trial of the Champions], maybe with a dash of Blood Bowl. Many adventurers are motivated by fame, more than they are by power, or even money. They are psychologically different from normal people, even ‘normally’ powerful people, the kings, generals, merchant-princes, thaumaturgic professors and bishops of the world. As an aside, in a world of magic, gods, and demons, it is entirely right that these non-adventuring powerful people are more often than not ‘high level’ (or game equivalent) people in their own right. The D&D standard of having all bishops  be level 9+ clerics, all kings as level 9+ fighters, etc. makes more sense (see counter-lesson 2, below) in this kind of world (while it certainly doesn’t in settings that attempt to emulate a historical period with a bit of magic glossed on top), as long as there is the XP mechanism for advancement other than by adventure. This path of non-adventuring advancement could be just for NPCs, though I dislike systems that mechanically differentiate PCs from NPCs, or from monsters even.

There are, however, two things that I cannot take from Mystara when building the world of Hammerstein!

1. Nations. The whole of the Known World is covered by nations. With borders, routes of communication, standing armies, etc., it is difficult to envisage that civilization exists as points of light amid fantastical peril, or that the world is small world but fantastical threats make travel perilous [points 3 and 5 of the Titanic Lesson Plan]. Cities might cast a civilizing shadow on the nearby countryside, but actual nations should be unusual and/or loosely bound.

2. A preponderance of high-level characters. “What? You’ve just written that high-level characters are justified.” Yes, I suppose this is a system rather than setting problem. It depends on the power scaling of the game. The power scaling of D&D works better in world where almost no-one is name level (which is always the impression that I got from AD&D1e, with the low demi-human level caps implying, to me, that even though humans could go further, only the superheroic did so). In Mystara, there are thousands of 36th level magic-users, and that’s just for starters. In a game world in which there are tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people with high-level adventuring skills, what is a PC to actually do? However, in a game where even ‘high-level’ characters are vulnerable (WFRP, AFF2e, or a BRP/RuneQuest game, somewhat like OpenQuest, say…), having 150% in close combat or knowing a vast array of sorcery spells is all well and good, but you’d much rather those crazy adventurers dealt with the dragon than risk your 15 hit points…

I’ll get round to what I want to borrow from the world of Warhammer soon.  

Sunday, 15 July 2012

40K Space Fascists?

These are the boyz that will stop your little game.

Orks. The only hope for *life* in the universe against encroaching Chaos, ravenous Tyranids, and death-cult humans.

I started painting up a Rogue Trader-era Ork force a while back, courtesy of some donated old metal from Davey. I think the idea was that we'd play some kind of heretical mash-up of RT/40K2e/Necromunda. I only got five models into the project before other gaming projects (and real life*) intervened. Now that I hear that the new edition of Warhammer 40K is quite good, in ways that I might well appreciate, what am I to do? Well, maybe finish another five boyz before I inevitably pick up the big box of plastic that will shortly be unleashed...

*Scratch that. Gaming is a part of my 'real life'. Non-gaming aspects of my life intervened.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Titanic Lesson Plan

In order that my game world / PC graveyard doesn't meander off into boring quasi-historical mundanity, I thought I'd best make sure that I was clear in my own head what I am pinching from my influences when thinking about Hammerstein! I'm doing this in order to keep my imagination active and on message. Here's the lessons that I am taking from the first ten Fighting Fantasy books.

1. The [under]world has dungeons, lots of them. They are more than mere monster lairs, filled with a rich variety, including things that *appear* to make little sense - old dwarfs playing cards, random benches for weary travellers, ferrymen, and animated tools. [Warlock of Firetop Mountain] However, even though evil wizards build towers and populate them with a strange array of creatures and objects, there is a 'dungeon ecology', but it the rationale for and interaction between elements of the dungeon is fantastical rather than mundane [Citadel of Chaos].
2. The wilderness should be full of encounters that are mini-adventures in themselves. Stop thinking about mundane ecologies and economics - these forests are full of adventure. Indeed, the wilderness can be structured like a non-linear dungeon [Forest of Doom and Scorpion Swamp].

3.The 'world' can be small because travel is perilous. This peril is fantastical rather than grim.  Bandits should NOT make up the majority of random wilderness encounters [Forest of Doom and Scorpion Swamp].

4.The 'world' is geographically small; tropical islands are a short journey from temperate grasslands, and from there you can reach the icy mountains. All manner of adventures can be crammed into a small space. Mundane distance is not the problem - the fantastic is [Forest of Doom, Island of the Lizard King, and Caverns of the Snow Witch].

5. Pay no attention to real medieval settlement patterns. Civilisation exists as pockets of light amid the fantastical peril. Culture can vary tremendously within a short distance - European inspired fantasy can sit alongside fantastical names inspired by a trip to Thailand [Deathtrap Dungeon].

6. Urban life is no less fantastically adventuresome than the wilderness. Cities are great big dangerous dungeons. If you want a quiet life, live in a modest sized town. [City of Thieves].

7. The big bads of the game world are magically powerful. They cannot be defeated simply by saying 'I ht him with my sword', but require a quest in order to identify and exploit his weakness. Unicorn tattoos are optional [City of Thieves].

8. This world contains famous professional adventurers. Adventurers (that survive) are rock stars [Deathtrap Dungeon].

9. Horror is as good a source of inspiration as its sibling genre, sword and sorcery [House of Hell].    

10. Sci-fi gaming, despite all its promise, doesn't hold my imagination in the way fantasy gaming does [Starship Traveller].

Plenary: Forget subtlety - exaggerate! Don't drain the magic, the fantastic, and the adventure from the world by thinking about 'realism'.

[Addendum: an indiegogo campaign for a new edition of Blacksand? That is well worth £30]

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Caves of Mykonos – D&D TPK play report

So, before this session I was thinking about cutting the per level experience point requirements in half. Even when we do play regularly, we don’t play the kind of marathon sessions that D&D was seemingly designed for. Given that part of the fun of D&D is levelling up and experiencing the way that the game changes, I was thinking of ways to make this happen. And I decided that it was better to keep a core part of D&D – mechanical XP awards (for defeating monsters, getting gold), variable advancement rates (you’ve got to give the Thief something, and hobble that sword-swinging spell-cannon, the Elf), rather than adopt a bland, ‘okay, you’ve survived three sessions, level up everyone’.

Of course, it didn’t matter. Not one character got close to touching second level. The second session ended in a TPK.

5th of Highsummer

Mangloo and Hopkirk (played by S) were delayed on the road to Ubberhouses – they were gigging that night – but the party were joined by two brothers, Crash and Eddie, Fighters with serious personality problems (what was it D, CHR 6 and 7?). Together with Gandalf (a Magic-User played by A) and the survivors of the last expedition, Abraham and Mohammed (Clerics played by C), and Catrina (a Thief played by A), the party set off for the hermit’s caves.

About a mile from the cave entrance, they came across the naked, mutilated bodies of Sibelius and Bosch, staked out as ‘scarecrows’, with signs reading ‘PIZZ OFF’ and ‘TRESPASERS WILL BE MURDERINGED’. The party buried the bodies, before heading on to the caves.

Their passage through the caves was relatively easy. They skirted the home of the CARRION CRAWLERS, reasoning that you don’t find treasure in a trash heap (good reasoning, but the beasts might have brought back a body or two back to their lair…) and found a much reduced GOBLIN presence. The earlier expedition hadn’t been totally in vain.

They mistook the laughter and agony of gambling for torture, which was amusing, before they surprised some GOBLIN sentries. And they rolled well, killing the scattered, thinned out goblins here, and deeper in the caves, with the first volley from the bows or swing of the sword. It was all very easy. The party avoided what might well have been traps – deciding to leave a shrine to a mushroom god well alone – they didn’t even touch the idol – and staying out of a cave covered in mushrooms which contained the body of a knight in shining platemail. ‘Cool’, I thought, ‘my players were getting low-level D&D. It is a game of caution, of planning, of making sure that every fight is over quickly or isn’t fought at all, while at the same time maximising loot’. They didn’t find the 100GP promissory note under a bed from the Bank of Barton and Black, nor did they take the mirror decorated with gold leaf that I described, but they were making good progress.

Then I rolled a 1 on a d12. I had decided that, with the numbers thinned, the GOBLIN patrols would only return to the cave on a roll of a 1 on a d12, checked every turn. In other words, they would return once every two hours on average. This was probably too short an interval between visits to the lair, but, hey, the party could deal with it. The party heard the returning GOBLINS stumble across the bodies of their comrades, but instead of finding a defensible position or preparing an ambush, they pushed deeper into the dungeon! Hey. You do know you can hear the sound of GOBLINS back up those stairs, yes?

They ignored a wooden gate, reasoning that behind that could only be a monster, and instead opened a wooden, iron barred door. Faced with a corridor that ended in another wooden, iron barred door, they listened, and heard discordant fiddle music, laughter, screams and weeping singing, and the stamp of armoured feet. And then they opened the door.

They were face-to-face with Guthrag, a 3HD GOBLIN KING, and his 2HD GOBLIN bodyguard – as well as the Ubberhouses youths who had been Mykonos’ servants. Gandalf cast Sleep, which knocked out the elite GOBLINS but not the GOBLIN KING (I always allow a saving throw for Sleep, mindful that even quite large low-level PC parties are liable to be wiped out by a single 1st level NPC Magic User who wins the initiative roll.) Crash and Eddie charged the GOBLIN KING, while Gandalf and Catrina went to work slitting the throats of the sleeping GOBLINS. Abraham and Mohammed, with the foresight that would be benefited the party had they developed it a little earlier, picked up the GOBLIN KING’s makeshift throne and used it to barricade the door. STR tests coming up.

Crash and Eddie were extremely busy failing to hit the GOBLIN KING, who round after round hit men hiding behind shields and wearing chain mail. He had Sibelius’ bastard sword (lucky for them, for all the good it did, I ruled he was wielding it one-handed) and was wearing Bosch’s oversized chainmail. Nevertheless, on the balance of probabilities, Crash, Eddie, and later Catrina should have done more than scratch him. In the end, that was all they managed. Crash (or was it Eddie?) fell first, his arm smashed via the Death and Dismemberment table. Abraham and Mohammed failed their STR test, and six GOBLINS burst into the room, led by a mean looking 2HD boss. Gandalf read his Scroll of Magic Missile (a little present to keep a 1st level Classic D&D Magic User useful), which didn’t stop the 2HD boss charging straight at him. He lasted a couple of rounds before he dropped screaming, his leg shattered. Abraham was literally cut the pieces by the GOBLINS. And from then on, rolls on the Death and Dismemberment table ground the party down until… TPK. 

Why did the party press deeper into the dungeon, even as they knew of the danger behind them? D says this was good roleplaying – that was what Crash and Eddie would have done. I don’t buy this entirely – I say that as professional soldiers they would have known that getting outflanked and outnumbered by the enemy was a VERY BAD THING – but it is the players’ game. The decisions are theirs to make. A says that, in hinsight, she should have had one of her characters suggest caution, but trusted the decisions of D the player when she should have been questioning the actions of the characters Crash and Eddie, who had clearly been warped by the horrors of war. It was a shame that C’s sense to use have his characters use the environment didn’t come until they were already surrounded… 

As a final note, it seemed to me that the players didn’t many questions on behalf of their characters. On Saturday, we played Lamentations of the Flame Princess with A, her sister and brother-in-law. The players asked endless questions about how things looked, felt, sounded, or smelled. Perhaps I need to stress that a large part of playing a roleplaying game is asking what your character can see, hear, smell, feel, and also what your character knows of the game world, rather than relying on the first bare description provided by the GM as if it is the totality of the world. 

Question: If a party finds gold that a monster has added to its hoard by taking it from their dead companions, do they get the equivalent XP? I wouldn’t award XP for characters who loot the bodies of comrades who died in the same session. But at the other extreme, monster hoards must include a fair amount of treasure from dead adventurers. How long before it becomes XP-awardable? How different does the party composition need to be before it counts as treasure? These questions only matter at low levels, where the 100GP or so that an adventurer might carry into a dungeon makes a difference. So, judging by the play so far, it will always matter in this campaign!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Folk Magic in Hammerstein!

It is too easy to allow magic in D&D become bland. There is no casting roll, no consequences for magic use, and spells occur instantly (if you win the initiative roll). I did like AD&D2e's casting times and material components, but never actually used them in play. The 2e schools of magic and specialist wizards were a good idea, even if they didn't work that well [to my mind, Brendan at Untimately has a much better way of handling 'specialist' magic in D&D]. RuneQuest magic can play pretty vanilla too, especially Common Magic, though the attempt by RuneQuest to embed magic in the cultures of the fantasy world - into the very fabric of the world, in the case of Glorantha - sets it apart. WFRP1e gives you magic with material components, and promises a world in which magic is a dangerous force, but unless a character opts for the dead-ends of Necromancy or Demonology, it is actually quite a low risk pursuit. What I am attempting to do with Hammerstein! is to tinker with the OpenQuest magic systems to produce some appropriately flavourful effects. First, by way of the RuneQuest lineage, magic is easily tied to the social organisation of the world - cultures and cults, guilds and grimoires, etc. Second, while magic will be ubiquitous, most people will have little magical power - Folk Magic (Common Magic/Battle Magic in Hammerstein!) is increasingly harder to learn at higher magnitudes. It is the magic of simple charms and curses, ritualised gestures and chants, echoes of lost knowledge. Third, other, more powerful forms of magic - supernatural intercession and thaumaturgic sorcery - carry risks. Communing with the supernatural is exhausting - so we're talking Resilience tests with Fatigue and even Hit Point penalties. Understanding the magical nature or reality is mindbending - so we're talking Persistence tests with Insanity Points. Or somesuch - I've yet to decide whether to use OpenQuest's elegantly simple rules, or build something pointlessly complex on top...

It's enough to drive you mad!

Anyway, there's more to it than that. With Folk Magic, I'm adding in 'material foci'. Below, I try to explain what these are, and suggest material foci for the OpenQuest spells that I'm including in Folk Magic. Of course, players will be free to suggest that their character comes from a tradition in which object X is used to cast folk magic spell Y. But the examples will set the tone. Unfortunately, the material foci that I've come up with are boringly literal. Suggestions for other material foci are welcome. Very welcome.

[] Material Foci
Casting folk magic spells usually involves the use of a material focus. These foci are as variable as the traditions through which this form of magic is passed from generation to generation. More often than not, the material focus of a spell is not consumed by its casting; it is simply a prop around which the ritual has been taught. A character casting a folk magic spell without the material focus used in the tradition he was taught does so with a Difficult (-20%) modifier to his Folk Magic skill score. Characters with very high Folk Magic skill scores are able to dispense with material foci as their mastery of the ritual is sufficient, but for the day-to-day practitioners, holy symbols, pinches of salt, feathers and the like are essential elements of magic. 


A small pouch of tiles or pebbles painted or carved with letters. 

Clear Path 
An ordinary knife.  

A toy top, a feather, an accurate set of weights, or extract of monkey brains.

A necklace, a bracelet, or a ring of other warding charm.  

A pot of tar, a falconry hood, or a candle snuffer. 

A toy mask with exaggeratedly fearful facial features or a small bag of live spiders. 

Detect (X) 
A small piece of the substance to be detected, a compass with the needle removed, or a dowsing rod. 

Dispel Magic 
A bag of salt, a pinch of which is tossed into the air when the spell is cast. 

A strip of leather, squeezed or pulled, as the spell is cast.

Dull Weapon
Two pebbles, ground together in the hand as the spell is cast.

Enhance (Skill)
The material foci for these spells are highly variable, ranging from trade tools to guild symbols, to material with a symbolic of mythic resonance with the skill being enhanced.

An ordinary container of water.

The teeth or claws of a vicious beast.

A piece of amber, touched against the missile.

A piece of amber, slid against the blade. 

Heal spells are unusual in that they often do not require a material foci, though some traditions build their rituals around the use of a holy symbol.

Hinder (Skill)
The material foci for these spells are highly variable. Guild symbols are often used, though many guilds deny that they teach such magic to their members.   
Hinder Perception – a pinch of dust blown in the direction of the target.
Hinder Trade – common material foci include counterfeit coins, rigged weights, and other symbolically fraudulent measures.
Hinder Persistence – spilling strong drink or a sedative drug onto the floor often serves as the material focus.

Pieces of flint or a small pouch of ashes.

This spell needs no other material foci other than the object to be illuminated. 

A small piece of paper covered in writing, which the caster swallows. 

A feather.

Archers using this spell often use a bag of down as the material focus of this spell. Cultures that use slings often use a handful of sand. The javelin wielding tribesmen of Inner Pogotania use a small bundle of reeds. Interestingly, though these traditions reflect the missile weapons of the culture, a Pogotanian tribesman can cast Multimissile on the crossbow bolt used by a Genezian mercenary perfectly well.   

A steel or bone needle.

The material foci of these spells are often simply the clothing, armour, weapon or shield of the target. The Allmeny barbarians, who eschew armour, often smear themselves in Frazetta oil when casting this spell.  

Second Sight 
The material focus of this spell is often a ring, to be looked through when casting the spell. 

A pouch of stones or lead shot, or a jar or treacle.

Tools for measuring distance, such a ruler or a knotted string. 

The knuckle bones of Trolls and other large humanoids or a mouthful of bull’s blood. In some barbarian tribes, the passage to manhood involves receiving a thick leather belt that acts as the focus of this spell.

Strong liquor or hot spices.

Water Breath 
Traditional material foci among the fishing villages along the Dragon’s Back include swallowing dried fish gills, while the Pearl Islanders take a small breath from a pouch made out of a swim bladder.  

Weapon Enhance
Blood from a man or woman who died in combat. Soldiers in the armies of Genezia are trained to use the gold doubloon that they received when being commissioned or conscripted.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Tomorrow Night's Game?

More Labyrinth Lord/Classic D&D? Lamentations of the Flame Princess? Crypts and Things? Dragon Warriors? WFRP1e? OpenQuest/(with unfinished Hammerstein! adaptations)? Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e? 

And which off the shelf scenario? I've got most everything for Dragon Warriors and WFRP1e (not a boast, more a lament to the great unplayed). I've got a lot of A/D&D stuff. Or something from the One Page Dungeon contests? A 1st level (or equivalent) adventure, with interesting NPCs/locations, suitable for an evening's play (not everything need be completed, but the evening's play should be satisfying in itself)... 

We'll be generating characters on the night, and I'm hoping to use the game to grab a couple of new (new to RPGs) players. Which is why I've still not decided on the system and adventure - the response I want is, 'when can we play again?' Any tips, my minuscule readership? Advise me on my bedtime reading.

[UPDATE 8th July: Well, I went with Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Tower of the Stargazer. Three players, six characters, two survivors, and that was after 'backsies' (it was just a one-off, after all) when the entire party was wiped out. Good fun.]

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Player Character Mortality

Is a good thing. 

Seriously.  I can’t imagine the point of playing a game that involved nominally lethal conflict in which there was an expectation that the player characters would not run a serious risk of death. Sure, certain campaign concepts might reduce the risk somewhat – the players might play the champions of the gods, for example, able to wade through normal men as if they were mere distractions. But if a player character goes up against a non-player character or monster of roughly equal power, the PC need be better equipped, or have chosen the ground, or engage in clever play, else his odds of winning that fight will be roughly fifty-fifty.

And some of the blame has to go to computer games, including, but not limited to, CRPGs (and CRPGs are NOT roleplaying games). A key piece of strategy advice for any CRPG is ‘save early, save often’. This is the style of play that the designers assume will be employed. Sure, you could play ‘ironman’, and start from the beginning each time your character died, but even in a ‘sandbox’ such as Skyrim you’ll be seeing the same thing over and over again. In a real RPG, the experience of playing a new character can be genuinely novel, not simply a sullen retread through the levels until you got back to where you were before.  I quickly got bored of Skyrim – as I get bored of most CRPGs, after an initial surge of enthusiasm. There is simply no risk, or even an illusion of risk. When my Skyrim character enters the dungeon, my worry is not that he’ll die, it’s that he’ll ‘die’ and I’ll have to play through a section of the dungeon again. 

I wrote this post last week, but it is particularly appropriate now as tonight’s game ended in a TPK. I'm not a killer DM, I promise. More on that later.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Dredd Trailer

I am a massive 2000AD fan. It has fed my imagination for a quarter of a century or so. Am a fan? Was a fan? I've let my subscription lapse in recent years. Nothing to do with the quality, which, when I stopped reading, was pretty high, and more to do with time and space. In fact, I need to sell my hundreds and hundreds of old progs and replace with collected editions that I will actually read, and lend. Before that there will be a similar purge of my US comics. And then I'll fill whatever space that leaves with more boardgames and RPG books and... I need a bigger house (fat chance of that).

Anyway, Rebellion have finally got their Dredd movie off the ground, which, thinking cynically, might give me a nice market in which to sell all those progs printed on bog paper from the mid 1980s (as well a boxes full of Megazines, Best of 2000ADs, Complete Judge Dredds, etc.). But as for the film itself, I'll go against the majority opinion here and say that I don't like the look of it. I'll even go so far as to say that, with warming effect of rose-tinted glasses, I'm worried that I'll prefer the Stallone version. Why? For the evidence of the trailer, the new film is humourless. I associate Judge Dredd, even when it has taken a darker turn, with satire, even spoof, of contemporary society. It has to be satire, else you're left simply to cheer on a fascist! And it has to be slightly spoofy, else you're playing the ridiculous with a straight face (and a massive chin).

Aside from that, it seems that the drug on the streets of MC-1 stimulates Shatner's Basoon.

And, just before Dredd says, "We'll have to go through them", I really hope he says, "We can't go over them, we can't go under them".

Trailer via Old School Heretic.