Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ragnarok Cometh: I'm Finally Taking the Plunge on Savage Worlds

After watching Kurt Wiegel's glowing review of The Day After Ragnarok, I've decided to pick up the setting along with the Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition. I've heard plenty of positive things about SW, but also enough from detractors I respect to give me pause. But what the hell. If I don't like the rules, I can still run "Ragnarok" with BRP (or--dare I say it--Labyrinth Lord/Mutant Future?).

Regardless, this campaign setting needs to be at least read, if not run. Because, seriously. As Kurt puts it, "If you enjoy gaming and have a pulse, you should check out this setting." After looking over the promotional blurb, I'm inclined to agree:

Submachine Guns and Sorcery!

Mighty-thewed barbarians and grim mercenaries roam the desolate plains of Ohio. Giant snakes, and those who worship them, prowl the ruins of St. Louis. Pirates battle the Japanese invaders in the South China Sea. Bold British agents, equipped with experimental bio-technology, thwart the insidious infiltration of Stalin's humanzees. Sky-raiders strike from hidden bases in the Sahara, deros skulk in South American caverns, and the Texas Rangers fight electrical death worms to save Los Alamos.

Kenneth Hite (Adventures into Darkness, Trail of Cthulhu) presents a world of savage swords and rocket men, of were-serpents and war-apes, from Australia's battered Empire to the proud city-state of Chicago.

The Day After Ragnarok includes:
  • Complete rules and guidelines for creating a hero suited for these dark times, including new Hindrances and Edges.
  • Dangerous ophi-tech devices built with knowledge torn from the Thing that nearly killed the world: fiber bombs, Marconi pistols, jet-packs, and more!
  • A grand tour through the post-apocalyptic world of 1948, from the drowned East Coast to the Soviet empire behind the Serpent Curtain -- including the Top Five Places to Be Attacked By Pirates, the Top Five Places to Find A Remote Castle Ruled By A Madman, and much more!
  • Stats for more than thirty foes to shoot, stab, or sneak past: Serpent cultists, Spetsnaz troopers, swamp devils, and ... snakes! Giant, 80-foot long snakes, that is!
  • Over 20 pages of pure adventure: Four campaign types, each with a sample campaign laid out in nine scenario seeds. A massive Adventure Generator, helping you build every tale from the Hook to the Henchmen to the Twist ending! Four worked examples, taking the Adventure Generator's raw numbers and running.
  • Plus old-school random encounters for the desolate wastelands of America -- will you face slave-raiding Klansmen, the terrifying fly-by-night, or a desperate band of escaped Wehrmacht P.O.W.s?

And across it all lies the trillion-ton corpse of the Midgard Serpent, killed by Truman's atomic fire but still poisoning the Earth with every night that passes. Welcome to the world at the end of the world.

This campaign touches on so many of interests (post-apocalyptic, Howardian pulp fantasy, WWII, mythology), I'm really trying not to jump out of my skin with excitement over this, folks. Of course, I probably would've picked it up, blurb/review or no, since it's by my favorite game designer, Ken Hite. The setting actually first appeared (if memory serves) as a campaign seed in the back of Hite's GURPS Weird War supplement, and it was intriguing then too.

I hope Savage Worlds pans out too. BRP remains my go-to generic system, but it does trend towards gritty-realistic. I'd love to have a cinematic counterpoint to trot out for those truly over-the-top campaigns. Plus I picked up the Mars and Thrilling Tales campaign books during the Gamers Helping Haiti charity drive, and I'd love to trot those out at some point too.

Pardon me, I have to go watch my mail box for the next few days...

[Solo GPC] 500: A Lion in Summer

This year marked a turning point in a lot of ways. As I mentioned in a comment to my last campaign update, this year promised much courtly intrigue--only appropriate, since Herringdale's Intrigue skill is up to 17 by now!--and a possible shift in tone. I think it delivered on both promises in spades.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Almost-Rans: Great Campaigns That Almost Were

I think anyone who's been running games for any length of time must have one or two of these old chestnuts stashed away in his dice-box-shaped hope chest: those campaigns that almost got off the ground but fizzled before they had a chance to reach their full potential.

In a way, I find these "almost-rans" even more irritating than the "campaigns I wish I could run but probably never will" sorts. At least with the latter, there's always the fantasy; "Maybe someday...," you muse, drumming your fingers thoughtfully on your chin.

But those almost-rans? They had their shot and they failed. Your best bet is that perhaps some day in the distant future you'll have a chance to sit down with a different group and try again, but in the meantime all you can do is bitch about it on the Internet and ask for commentors to commiserate and share their own almost-rans. See what I did there?

Here's mine:

My only extended break from regular gaming occurred between late 2000 and early 2003. A fairly tumultuous time in my life, fair to say, and my return to gaming also signaled a return to a more settled, satisfied life in general. To celebrate, I put together an awesome campaign (if I must say so myself).

I made up 12 PCs for GURPS (an impressive feat in itself!). Each PC was represented by a senior photo taken from my high school alumni web page. Class of '84 (which was not my own graduating class, for those of you keeping score at home). I made up a contact sheet with all the photos on a single page. Players chose their character solely on the photos, then got the character sheet handed to them. The campaign kicked off on December 2nd, 1983.

Half the PCs were nerds and dweebs, the other half were jocks and cheerleaders. One of the nerds was the brother of a cheerleader. The jocks had gathered at the cheerleader's house to watch the MTV premiere of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video; the dweebs had gathered in the basement to play AD&D.

The idea was that, in this alternate setting, the Thriller video was actually a mass raise dead spell beamed out across the world, bringing forth hordes of zombies (whose only weakness was dance music, naturally--unfortunately the campaign ended before the PCs discovered this). We had a blast with the first session, RPing some conflict between the jocks upstairs and nerds downstairs, then having a disturbing encounter with a zombified roadkill cat, and ending off with the first wave of zombies attacking.

For whatever reason, things never progressed from there. I can't really remember why now, seven years later. It's a damn shame, though. For one thing, having all those pregen PCs made the inevitable casualties no problem; if someone bit the dust, you just handed them a new character sheet. I think we had three casualties in the first session, including a nerd who blew up a gas station (and himself) in a heroic last stand.

Also, in addition to dancing zombies, once the shit really started hitting the fan I was going to introduce The Misfits (sans Danzig, who naturally would have become a local zombie lord) as professional zombie hunters (the campaign was set in New Jersey). That would've been sweet. I hadn't made up my mind yet whether Michael Jackson, Vincent Price, or John Landis was the master necromancer and main villain, though. Whoever it was, they'd be based out of L.A. and the campaign would follow the group as they fought they way across Zombie America to get to the master necromancer and kill his ass.

Ah well. Maybe I'll get another chance with a fresh group someday...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

[Solo GPC] 499: The Return

With the snows melting and the first warm breezes blowing through the eaves and branches of the Forest Sauvage, Sir Herringdale got set to try again at the Gallant's Challenge. Again, they headed out to the mews, and again Herringdale chose the Modest falcon. They then set out into the woods in search of quarry.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pendragon Siege Rules

With the release of the Book of Battle, Pendragon finally got the detailed battle system it deserved. Even before the release of the BoB, the game featured a workable mass combat system. It's always struck me as odd that sieges, a central facet of medieval warfare far more common than open battle, have received such short shrift.

I realize that Pendragon is not a medieval simulation game, but rather a game designed to represent the "reality" of medieval society as seen through the lens of Arthurian legend, but even the legends featured some pretty epic sieges. And sieges have plenty of potential for drama interspersed among the muck and blood.

After giving it some thought, I've come up with, I believe, a system that dovetails with the system presented in Book of Battle, useful for generating more detailed siege results while still allowing for those moments of high siege drama to present themselves. Here then is my Pendragon Siege Table...

(A quick caveat: these rules have not been playtested--although they certainly will in upcoming sessions of my Solo Great Pendragon Campaign--so feel free to tweak and adjust the table and results as you see fit. Feedback's always appreciated!)

Pendragon Siege Table

At the start of the siege, the GM determines the Siege Intensity, which should range between 20 for sieges involving a couple hundred knights total to 30 for huge sieges involving thousands of knights on a side (Joyous Garde, for example).

The GM should also name a Time Interval: one day, one week, or one month. TI should be based on strength and provisioning of defender's position; figure a TI of a day for defenders in an exceptionally weak position or who were caught by surprise, a week for average preparation and defenses, and a month for exceptional preparation and defenses.

Figure DV modifiers as usual. Additional modifiers from p. 15 of the Book of Battle may be applied if the GM wishes.

Both Defender and Attacker roll Siege skill once per Time Interval. One opposed roll constitutes one Time Interval. Consult the Siege Table for results and add or subtract from the intensity.

If the intensity dips below 0, the attackers lift the siege and go home.
If the intensity rises above 40, the defenders surrender automatically.

At the GM's whim or as determined by a Siege Table result, selected Time Intervals can feature "extended resolution" phases in which the PCs are allowed to take action (lead or beat back an assault, attempt to sneak into the fortress, lead a sortie, etc.). These extended resolutions should trump any other considerations of intensity level or programmed results.

Defender/AttackerFUMBLEFAILURESUCCESSCRITICAL
CRITICALReliefDesertionCountermeasuresNothing
SUCCESSDisease (A)SortieNothing (Disease - D)Siegecraft
FAILUREStarvation (A)Nothing (Disease - A&D)AssaultDisease (D)
FUMBLENothing (Disease - A)Starvation (D)TraitorWall Breach

"A" - Attacker; the besieging force
"D" - Defender; the force under siege

Definition of Terms

Assault: Both sides make an opposed Battle roll; defenders add the unmodified Defensive Value of their fortification unless there's been a Wall Breach or Siegecraft result in a previous TI. Both sides then consult the Follower's Fate table in the main rulebook to determine casualties. Additionally, if the attacker succeeded and the defender failed, Intensity is raised by 10. Likewise, if the defender succeeded and the attacker failed, Intensity is lowered by 10. Criticals or partial successes have no further effect.

Countermeasures: Although largely confined to a passive role, there were options available to defenders--counter-mining, counter-battery fire, psychological warfare--that allowed them to take action from time to time. These countermeasures are abstracted, represented by applying a -1d6 to Intensity.

Desertion: Dissent and boredom in the besieger's ranks leads to mass desertion. Lower Intensity by 1d6+4.

Disease: Sieges inevitably became charnel pits of festering disease for attacker and defender alike. If the attacker is afflicted with disease this TI, lower Intensity by 1d6+4. Likewise, if the defender suffers an outbreak, Intensity is raised by 1d6+4. Note that these results can cancel each other out if both attacker and defender suffer from disease in a single TI!

Relief: The fervent prayer of any besieged force was to see a friendly army approaching from over the horizon. Such an event imposes an immediate modifier of -20 to Intensity; if this drops the Intensity below 0, the besieging army withdraws automatically in the face of the approaching relief force. If Intensity is still above 0, the GM should run a battle using the Book of Battle to determine the victor. If the PCs are part of the besieged force, they may of course elect to lead the defenders onto the field of battle and fight alongside the relief force.

Siegecraft: The machinations of the siege engineer are particularly effective this TI. Perhaps a well-placed hit from a trebuchet brings down a tower, or a mining operation makes particularly efficient progress. The particulars are abstracted, and are represented by applying a -1d6 to the opponent's DV.

Sortie: Besieged knights, always on the lookout for opportunities to put their martial skills to good use, spot a perfect moment to strike and ride out in a sortie intended to sow chaos, death, and confusion among the besieger's camp. This can be played out as an extended resolution, or resolved simply with opposed Battle rolls. Casualties and Intensity adjustment are figured as per Assault, but Intensity is only modified by +/-5.

Starvation: The bane of the defender, and the most common way to bring sieges to an end, starvation could affect attackers as well if the camp quartermaster did not make adequate preparations--an army camped in a single location for an extended period of time will quickly use up all the local resources. If the defender rolls a Starvation result, add 5 to Intensity; likewise, if the attacker suffers Starvation this TI, subtract 5 from Intensity.

Traitor: Aside from starvation, most sieges were ended not through bloody assault but by treachery from within. A Traitor result grants the attacker his choice of: (1) an immediate +15 to Intensity; or, (2) a reflexive modifier of +10/-10 on his next Siege roll (in which case a result of Wall Breach represents the Traitor opening the gates from within).

Wall Breach: Through battering ram, mining, trebuchet, or treachery, a wall or gate has been breached and the besieging force pours through. Add 20 to Intensity; if the modified Intensity is 40 or above, the defending garrison capitulates and the besieged residents are at the attackers' mercy. If Intensity is still below 40, the GM should run a skirmish to determine the fate of the PCs (barring some extraordinary heroics on the part of defending PCs, the besieged residents are still doomed; the skirmish merely determines how the PCs and their followers fare in the chaotic fighting through baileys, streets, and corridors).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Links of Note

Hey, look at me--I finally get to make one of those "here are some links you should check out" posts! Even if it's only three links...ahem.

First up, ChristopherB of A Rust Monster Ate My Sword has returned from his wanderings in the wastelands and fired up a second blog, this one focused on miniatures games. The title of his blog is A Hard Won Thing, which he explains thusly:

Well, it's because that basically describes any game I've won in the last 20 years. I love gaming with miniatures - constructing plans of battle, mulling over tactics, etc. - but when it comes to making those dice work for me, forget it. It's a real struggle for my little lead men to pull out a victory, thanks more to fickle Fortune than to any major tactical flaw.

Boy, can I ever relate to that statement! I think I used up all my minis dice-rolling luck about 15 years ago during an infamous incident during the last game of Warhammer I've played to date in which I managed to turn a Balrog Bloodthirster of Khorne into a giant amethyst statue using my piddly little Level 1 Wizard. Was it worth it? Probably. But brother, have I suffered since!

At any rate, my own miniatures hobby has been more or less in suspended animation for far too long now, but I do enjoy a good miniatures blog. If you do too, head on over to A Hard Won Thing!

The other two links are back in the realm of RPGs, specifically Pendragon. I of course am not the only one chronicling the Great Pendragon Campaign, and here are a couple links to especially good efforts that in many ways put my own humble efforts to shame.

First up, we have The Cardiff Boys vs Pendragon; in case you can't tell from the title, the tone of the updates is decidedly irreverent. Several of the yearly updates had me literally laughing out loud, and I love the use of miniatures to create a visual narrative. But under all the irreverence, there's a great run-through of the GPC lurking, filled with plenty of high drama and reversals of fortune. The GM's use of visual aids is also notable, and a technique definitely worthy of unashamedly stealing. Plus, the campaign's sort of the antithesis of my single-player campaign, as it boasts (best I can tell) no fewer than eight player-characters!

Back to the idea of steal-worthy ideas, faithful Solo GPC commenter Eric Wilde has started up his own Great Pendragon Campaign, and has the website to prove it. Boy does he ever! A truly impressive piece of work, and as far as I'm concerned, the model for how to properly set up the Great Pendragon Campaign. His group's only one year in so far, but already there's been plenty of courtly drama and dramatic action. Subscribed.

Monday, April 5, 2010

[Solo GPC] 498 (Session II): Lost in the Forest

Having seen to the safe departure of Merlin, Herringdale made swiftly for Sarum and a meeting with Countess Ellen.

"My lady," he said when he'd finally arrived, "I have reason to believe that I may be able to locate the son of Prince Madoc."

Countess Ellen looked simultaneously excited and worried.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

[Solo GPC] 498 (Session I): Crossroads

After having to skip a week's session due to an attack of late-winter crud, we got back into the Great Pendragon Campaign this weekend. I'd been looking forward to running this session quite a bit. In fact, I even had a dream about running it earlier in the week, something that doesn't often happen to me. As it turned out, this year made up for our dearth of playing in that it provided two sessions' worth of action. Read on for an account of the first session...

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