Monday, December 21, 2009

Today Was a Good Day

Lots of nice things happened today--not the least of which was coming home to find an unexpected chicken roasting in the oven--but the icing on the cake was getting my copies of the Pendragon Book of Battle and Book of Armies in the mail.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

Anyone who's played Pendragon down through its various editions probably knows that the battle rules are the part of the game that leaves much to be desired. These supplements aim to change that.

I've only had a chance to flip through them cursorily (huh, spell check informs me that's a real word), but it looks like that goal might just have been achieved.

At the very least, the Book of Armies adds page after page of awesome foes to fight. My favorite so far is probably the Bandit Gang, which includes entries such as "Those guys with funny moustaches" and "That guy who flips the coin & his pals". There's also an alternative list called The Brute Squad, which simply consists of a guy named Brute Squad ("You are the Brute Squad!") and another guy named Dashing Fencing Avenger.

There are also battles that get their own special foes tables. Badon Hill has some particularly epic entries, as befits the epic stature of the engagement. The "Day 3" tables, for example, could have you facing a Blind Warlord being led into battle his Wounded, Battered Men, a Swooping Giant Hawk (if it hits, you get picked up and dropped in the next round for 3d6 damage!), or Old Saxon Witches riding Giant Dogs (watch out for their Deadly Eyes attack!).

Oh how I love this game.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pardon the Dust...

Fun fact: Did you know I have a miniatures blog as well? Don't worry, sometimes I forget I do too.

If you popped over and looked at the paucity of posts, its should be obvious that it's not exactly a hotbed of updating frenzy even by my somewhat relaxed standards. Much to my chagrin, miniatures gaming and painting no longer occupy quite the central place in my hobby activities as they once did. And frankly that blog was just sitting there as a reminder of that fact.

So I've decided to migrate all my old Miniatures Corner posts to this blog for easy reference (feel free to peruse the suddenly expanded archive to your left); expect to see occasional posts of my ever-percolating miniatures projects.

Of course, this raises another issue now that this place isn't technically just an RPG Corner anymore. I wonder if I should rename it as long as I'm doing some renovating? Yea? Nay? Suggestions?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ships of the Wilderlands

For a time last summer I thought I was going to run a Freeport campaign. Naturally, I decided to set Freeport in the Wilderlands--I ended up placing it in Hex 0420 on Map 12 (Isles of the Dawn)--and this got me thinking about nautical technology in my campaign world.

Now, I'm as much a fan of the great galleons of the Age of Sail as the next person, but as I thought things over, I developed a sense that the Wilderlands needed something a bit pulpier, a bit more Bronze-Iron-Dark Ages, if you will. The only canonical nautical technology I was aware of was the longships of the Vikings Skandiks, and those would be staying for sure, no questions asked. I mean, what's cooler than Viking longships?

© Angus McBride/Osprey Publishing

And right now you are muttering, "Nothing's cooler than Viking longships." And you would, of course, be right.

This decision only strengthened my resolve to avoid galleons, or even medieval caravels. No, the longships of the Skandiks would represent cutting-edge tech, not some Dark Ages throwback. Plus, I have a thing for oared galleys and lateen-rigged sails, what can I say? So it was that I decided on having most ships at sea be some variation on galleys and other ancient sailing vessels.

As it turned out, the Freeport campaign didn't materialize, but I've been inspired of late to revisit my old ideas by a couple sources: first, Beyond the Black Gate recently put up a couple excellent posts on matters medieval and nautical, and second, I recently reacquired a favorite book from my childhood, The Golden Book of Buccaneers by John Gilbert, which is chock-fulla great Howard Pyle-style illos by Edward Mortelmans. Although the book focuses on the Golden Age of Piracy, there are also chapters on piracy through the ages. One particular line drawing accompanied the section on ancient piracy and it was there in the four ships depicted that I saw my ideas for ships in the Wilderlands made manifest: the galley, the corbita (Roman merchant ship), the longship, and the xebec. Following are some basic stats and information on these ships and their uses (stats are amalgamated from the d20 supplement Broadsides! and the old 2e supplement Of Ships and the Sea).

First, some definitions:
  • Draft is the measurement of the distance from the waterline to the ship's bottom; in effect, it is the minimum depth of water required to float the boat.
  • Length is the distance of the ship measured from stem to stern.
  • Beam is the vessel's measurement at its widest point.
  • Cost is the market value of the ship.
  • Crew is given in three values: Optimum, Adequate, and Skeleton. Optimum crews should get a bonus to any dice rolls involving maneauver or seamanship; skeleton crews should suffer an equivalent penalty. The crew sizes given are sufficient for 12 hours of sailing a day; increase crew sizes by 50% to allow for extra shifts and 24 hours of continuous sailing.
  • Speed is given in two values: knots (nautical miles per hour) and a Move value representing yards per melee round (given in parenthesis). In both cases, if the vessel is capable of oared and sail-powered movement, two values will be given separated by a slash; the first value is oared movement speed.
  • Maneuverability is rated on a scale analogous to 1e/2e flying maneuverability, rated from A to E. Class A vessels can turn in place up to 180 degrees in a minute (no movement is possible during this turn), Class B can turn 90 degrees per minute of movement, Class C can turn 60 degrees/minute, Class D can turn 30 degrees/minute, and Class E vessels can only manage a 30 degree turn with two minutes of movement.
  • Seaworthiness is the percentage chance of a vessel to weather adverse conditions such as gales and hurricanes.
  • Cargo/Transport is a split value; the first number refers to space available for stowage rated in tons, while the second figure refers to the number of medium-sized creatures that can be taken on board in total (crew, passengers, soldiers, etc.). Cargo space can be converted to transport passengers instead at the rate of 1 extra passenger per 5 tons of cargo sacrificed; likewise, transport space can be used for cargo stowage at the rate of 8 passengers to 1 ton of cargo.

Galley: The galley is primarily designed as a warship. Its territory is calm coastal waters and even--thanks to its narrow beam and shallow draft--rivers, estuaries, and lakes. However, it's these very characteristics that make the galley extremely susceptible to capsizing in rough seas and generally keep it well within reach of safe harbors for fear of sudden storms.

Fitted with both sails and oars, the galley is designed for speed and maneuver in the thick of battle. Rowers and crew are usually to be found below-decks; the deck is essentially a staging area for marines ready to act as boarding parties in ship-to-ship combat. Galleys are generally fitted with a giant ram on the prow, and either a catapult or ballista at the stem and stern. Many galleys are also fitted with some kind of boarding gangway.

Draft: 3 feet
Length: 135 feet
Beam: 15 feet
Cost: 20,000 gp
Crew: 20/15/10 (plus 150/100/70 oarsmen)
Speed: 3/5 (6/15)
Maneuverability: A (oars); C (sails)
Seaworthiness: 45%
Cargo/Transport: 30/320

Corbita: These ships are not built for speed or maneuverability but for cargo space. They have simple rigging: a single mast with a square main sail and two smaller triangular top sails provide the primary form of propulsion, while another square sail hanging off the bow provides some measure of maneuverability against the wind. The ships are generally steered by two aft rudders linked together and operated by a pair of helmsmen. Traditionally, the stern is decorated with some kind of animal feature, most commonly a swan's head or fish tail. The example given here is an intermediate freighter capable of sailing up large rivers. Even bigger ocean-going merchant ships would be half again as large in all dimensions, have cargo capacities up to ten times those listed here, and a Maneuverability rating of E.

Merchant ships are generally unarmed, but in particularly hazardous waters may mount small ballista or swivel guns on the railings.

Draft: 4 feet
Length: 70 feet
Beam: 25 feet
Cost: 12,000 gp
Crew: 28/21/15
Speed: 5 (6)
Maneuverability: D
Seaworthiness: 50%
Cargo/Transport: 110/50

Longship: Deceptively simple in their construction, longships are characterized by a shallow-draft hull made up of overlapping planks, an open deck, and a single mast. Movement is augmented by a bank of oars, most often deployed in combat or when navigating rivers and inlets. Crew and cargo are both exposed to the elements, with only a tarp or tent to provide shelter from extreme weather conditions.

Despite its simple design, the longship is a fairly seaworthy vessel capable of traversing the ocean as much as navigating rivers and lakes. It is also a versatile vessel that can be used as a merchant trader or warship, often on the same voyage!

Longships are never equipped with their own armament, relying instead on the battle-prowess of its hardened crew to win the day in ship-to-ship combat.

Draft: 2 feet
Length: 75 feet
Beam: 15 feet
Cost: 15,000 gp
Crew: 8/5/3 (30/24/10 oarsmen)
Speed: 3/7 (3/12)
Maneuverability: A (oars), C (sails)
Seaworthiness: 60%
Cargo/Transport: 20/75

Xebec: A versatile and speedy sailing vessel, the xebec is a favorite of coastal merchants and pirates alike. Designed with sleek, narrow lines and a shallow draft for speed, the xebec nonetheless mounts three lateen-rigged sails, giving it excellent maneuverability against the wind (perfect for pursuit or escape, thus its popularity among pirates).

The xebec also sees use as a warship by those navies that favor speed and ranged combat over the close-in ship-to-ship engagements of galleys and longships; xebec warships are most commonly found in the southern oceans, where gunpowder technology is more widespread, and will typically mount ten small cannons along each side. Those xebecs used by pirates often trade off armament for a small bank of oars to allow the ship to maneuver in becalmed waters.

Draft: 4 feet
Length: 90 feet
Beam: 25 feet
Cost: 17,000 gp
Crew: 50/35/20
Speed: 10 (15)
Maneuverability: C
Seaworthiness: 65%
Cargo/Transport: 60/200

Other Ships and Boats
Those four ship types constitute what I envision as the most commonly encountered vessels, but certainly there's room for others. In addition to the coracles, dugouts, and skiffs that would be piloted by simple fishermen, there are undoubtedly other more exotic vessels at sea. Elven catamarans, dwarven submarines, gnomish paddlewheels, and orc war rafts are just a few of the possibilities that spring to mind.

And keep in mind that perhaps one reason oar-powered ships have proven to have greater staying power in the Wilderlands than in our own history is due to the fact that in a world where you can literally have a skeleton crew at the banks, you can travel non-stop day and night without worrying about wearing out your rowers...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.

(We will return to our regularly scheduled gaming-related posts shortly; for the moment, please indulge me in shilling for something I think many of my readers would find to their interest.)

I think I've made passing reference once or twice to the fact my father, Dennis Larkins, is an artist. It's no doubt where I get much of my own eye for aesthetics and visual composition. And although he isn't a gamer, I think a lot of his imagery is very "gamer friendly"--for the past ten years or so he's been working solidly in a genre dubbed by those who like to sort things into categories as Pop Surrealism, which is sort of the "Kitchen Sink Coalition" of the art world.

Recently he's started producing limited-edition giclee prints of some of his more recent works. (Giclee is a relatively new technology that produces the effect and appearance of a painting as a print; having seen these prints in person, I can attest to their vast superiority over regular art prints.) I'm helping him experiment with selling some of these prints on eBay. There are currently ten images being offered, each in two sizes (16x20 and 11x14).

If you're looking for some pretty cool art for a holiday gift or just to decorate your own walls, feel free to click over to my eBay page and take a look!

And you can read more about my Dad's art career and see a gallery of his paintings at his website, StartlingArt.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Crossbows and Hockey Pads Are In Demand

Last night I went and saw The Aquabats put on an as-always awesome show. Back when I lived in SoCal, I caught them in concert as much as I could, but they rarely make it up this far north. It had been about five or six years since I'd seen an Aquabats show--far too long!

At any rate, with various of their songs now swirling around in my noggin, I was reminded of a little vow I've been meaning to post: One sweet day I will get the chance to run a Mutant Future campaign, and when that time comes this will be the themesong:

Lyrics for the sonically-challenged:

The radiation in the ground
Makes a lovely bubbly sound
The men in suits
Who don't eat fruit
Can't comprehend
The one-legged newt
That was caused from disaster
At reactor's core
A meltdown expected
To start a war
Now I bought myself
A lead ascot
It looks good but
I'm startin' to rot

Hey you,
With that green glow in your hair
I swear I see a tear
In your radiation wear
Somehow it's there

Razorblade boomerangs
And iron hands
Crossbows and hockey pads
Are in demand
Toxic waste
In synthetic place
Can add an eyeball
To your face

Hey you,
With that green glow in your hair
I swear I see a tear
In your radiation wear
Somehow it's there

Hey me
You know your gums
Are starting to bleed
I've got some shrink-to-fit
Mutated genes
And some bleak posterity
If they end up like me

I am the Humongous..
Everybody knows I own the wasteland
And now may I introduce to you
Benji The Tap-dancing Mutant boy
(Go Benji, Go)

"Hi I'm Benji
I'm a tap-dancing mutant
I wasn't always like this
I was born a normal boy
But now I live in this world of joy!"

It's Benji from Peoria
Don't drink the water
I implore ya
But his mom and dad
They were exposed
And that's how the neutrons grow

Hey you
With that green glow in your hair
Well I swear I see a tear
In your radiation wear
Somehow it's there

Hey me
You know your gums
Are starting to bleed
I've got some shrink-to-fit
Mutated genes
And some bleak posterity
If they end up like me

Just walk away...
Just walk away...
There's been too much violence...
Just walk away...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cryptic Goings-On in the Shadow of the Cryptic Citadel

Our last installment of my C&C Wilderlands campaign saw the party move from the wilderness into the City State of the Invincible Overlord. I approached the session with some level of trepidation; as I wrote about after first GMing a venture into the City State, I'm well aware that things can take a rather dramatic turn rather quickly once through the city gates. As the party are all still 1st level, I was doubly-concerned--the City State struck me as a place for "big fish" and a group of 1st level newbs, no matter how determined, were the proverbial tadpoles.

I wrote an email to Alex, the player of the hapless gnome in my post from last year, telling him that things would soon be returning to the city that still haunts his nightmares. He wrote back:
So naturally I extend my deepest condolences to your campaign, I'm sorry to hear that it will soon be ending. I hope the scouting my gnome did will give your players a slight advantage, allowing them to squeeze out a few extra painful days of existence before their inevitable gruesome deaths.

Pass along these City State tips for me:

1) Don't go out at night, under any circumstances.
2) If you must travel in the city at all, stick to covered walkways
3) If someone catches you doing something illegal, shank them and run (paying attention to tip #2)
4) If you get caught, do not represent yourself at court

I wish you guys luck!

Turns out, we needn't have worried. The dice behaved themselves this time around, at least insofar as screwing people over.

The party had made for the City State to spend some ill-gotten loot. Their first adventure consisted of a d20 module I lifted from a latter-day issue of Dungeon, in which they explored a trapped pirate treasure trove (ala Goonies) while simultaneously unraveling a mystery surrounding the pirate crew's descendents and shapeshifting spider-people called aranea. That's the theory at least. Like a good group of D&D characters, the group displayed only the barest level of interest in the plight of the secret forest village and pretty much high-tailed it out of there as soon as they'd figured out a way past the traps and into the treasure room.

(Oh, and taken on a hydra. Only the fact that it was still drugged from spider venom and more interested in escaping back to the forest prevented a TPK. Nonethelss, Rumple Wumpkin was knocked down to 1 hit point. This is how we learn, I suppose. And now there's a hydra loose in that part of the forest. Ex-cellent.)

Laden down with gold, in the middle of the orc-haunted Dearthwood, the group decided to bury about a third of it in case they found themselves in need of fleeing for their lives at some point in the near future. But the dice were kind to them even in the wilderness, and the worst they had to endure was a three-day downpour and a near brush with a giant crocodile.

I can't write too much specifically about the many seeds that were to be planted once the group arrived in the City State, since at least a couple of my players have access to this blog and are known to read it. So you, gentle reader, will have to wait as long as my players to discover the fallout from Rumple Wumpkin joining a cult in a drunken haze (the only clue in the morning being a pendant of a gauntleted hand squeezing out a drop of blood), or of the elven wizard-assassin Beezlebub's romantic liaison with the dancer at the Cup and Dragon, a certain "Allura" (hint: not her real name).

(Both these incidents, by the by, arose because of Jeff Rients' awesomely fantastic "Carousing Mishaps" table; the PCs had made for the City State specifically because it offered the best odds for cashing in their gold pieces for experience points. Unfortunately, both R-W and Beezle rolled an "11" on their d12x250 roll and way overindulged.)

We ended the session with the group bravely crossing the City State diagonally from the southeast to the northwest--they were making for the Sages Guild to get some questions answered. Of course, part of the fun of the place is the fact that just stepping out for a spell can be an adventure in and of itself, and sure enough, our intrepid group found themselves subjected to an ambush courtesy of a band of goblin miscreants sniping from some eaves at the top of a ramshackle building on the aptly-named Street of Maelstroms. The group made it out with a nicely-placed sleep spell, but not before Des's character, a halfling cleric of the moon goddess, took two criticals. Ouch! The City State would not be happy until it received its blood sacrifice.

As for the next session, the group is thinking of looking into taking up a ransom being offered to clear out a basilisk problem at the Naughty Nannies bordello. The role-playing opportunities in that boggle the mind. Then there are my own secret devious schemes that will hopefully be set into motion as well...

Ah, I love the City State!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Abulafia Rifts Oracle

JB over at B/X Blackrazor raised an interesting point last month with his series of posts on his love-hate relationship with Rifts: that the core book contains essentially zero info on what a "Rifts adventure" looks like!

Part of this, of course, is due to Rifts being a victim of its own expansiveness--in a kitchen sink setting such as this, there's about a million and one different ways to set up a campaign. But the point still stands, and I have to admit that upon reflection I realized that my idea of what a "typical" Rifts adventure looks like came from the supplements, particularly Sourcebook I's adventure. There are other publications that also offer excellent adventure seeds, but there's one free resource available that I'd forgotten about until earlier this week: the Rifts Oracle over on Abulafia. Like all the Oracles at that wonderful site, this one will, every time the page is loaded, spit out a short list of one-sentence adventure seeds. Here's some sample output from the first time I went to the link:
A City Rat who just stole the passwords to a military Cyborg control center
A small town dominated by a being from another dimension
A cyber knight with wounds that will not heal and a quest that never ends
A powerful magical ritual, requiring a pound of orichalcum, the semen of a righteous man, and a pre-Rifts computer chip in perfect condition

Fantastic stuff! I particularly like the last one; very Unknown Armies-ish. I think I know who the righteous man would be modeled on too...
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