Friday, June 28, 2013

Beneath the Tower of Petrified Screams - Pahvelorn Play Reports 35-36

"There are places that are wrong in the world, outside the cycle of collapse and rebuilding, cankers of magic and hubris where not even the most hearty and noble of the earth's creatures, the rat, can find a place to thrive.  This tower, and the temple beneath, are such a place, and are clouded from the vision of our Mother her myriad of children.  She warns us, as she has warned the followers of the empty sky, that this place of wrongness goes deep, so deep that its roots reach down past the runs of the elect, gnawed into the pillars of creation." - Lau Taxan, Beni Profane's spiritual adviser and horse of the Rattus Legatus

After the battle beyond Pahvelorn's skull etched door, the adventurers were bruised, cut and generally disheartened.  Eariyara the child sorceress had taken her first serious sword wound to the scalp, and both of her servants were dead.  Fitzwalter, the stoic mercenary whose loyalty far outweighed his combat ability had been poisoned with an arcane crossbow bolt, but a portion of his soul refused to abandon his duty, and through the strange magic of Pahvelorn had been siphoned into his crossbow, now a twisted and malformed weapon, it's steel bow blackened as if by fire and it's stock warped.  Ginny Bo an elderly former cooper who joined the party in Illum-Zugot out of a desire to do great deeds before his death, and actually managed a fair number, was also hacked to pieces by the axe of a brutish bandit lord.  The other party members, Tarvis the Crusader, his battle deacon Daroullian,  Pron the Beast Child, Sir Beni Profane - self proclaimed rat catcher general, Lau - Taxan the Cunning Man, Karna - Annoited Bishop of Illum Zugot Haxetha, the gladiator Haxatha, and Torgel the Bald, a bandit with sanguinary tastes, all also suffered injury and exhaustion. It was time to leave Pahvelorn and the town perched above it, Zorptah, as the war to the West closed in on it. What was needed was a way to stop the war, and the only option known to the party was a weapon beneath a place of ancient burial and evil far to the East.

Evil Temples all look the same - Right?

Monday, June 24, 2013

What's in the Toilet? An HMS APOLLYON random table.

Aboard the HMS Apollyon there is a strange belief gaining traction amongst the scavengers and adventurers who wander into the vast forsaken darkness that toilets - the bowls, the tanks and stalls - all contain treasures.  This may be no more or less true than other dark potential hiding places aboard the hull, but of late the legend has grown that every broken, abandoned bathroom is home to great wealth.

Below are some of the things occasionally found in toilets of the Apollyon.  Suffice to say this isn't an exhaustive list, and most abandoned toilets contain nothing of interest. The table might be useful in any setting where PCs have a tendency to find bathrooms in dungeons (which is a topic of debate for dungeon design I hear!) as no character ever seems to resist at least looking in an ancient crapper.

I should note that this is a "player generated table" as my Apollyon players have lately become obsessed with looting ancient bathrooms after once finding a silver hip flask, and another time discovering some old drugs in a toilet tank. Also I must give a nod the the Borderlands games, which use toilets (and porta-potties) as a common loot container and seem to most frequently contain grenades.

Treasure Storehouse to be Sure!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Decadent Pleasures - Uptown Carousing Table

I am starting a few sessions of HMS Apollyon play where the party consists of passenger class twits.  Now this has required some game changes, because money is no longer really an important driving force for wealthy layabouts.  Below are some of the rules for making things a bit different than a normal dungeon crawl, and encouraging properly rakish behavior.

I am Hograth, King of the debauched! (Not really Hograth)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Different Kinds of Dungeons - Thoughts on MegaDungeons Part IV.

Another rambling installment in my thoughts about GMing Megadungeons.  The previous installments can be found here for reference - Part I, Part II, Part III. In this post I've tried to lay out my thoughts on alternatives to the classic exploration dungeon.

Lately I've been running HMS Apollyon again, starting with a new batch of characters and taking the lessons I learned from the last game, from running ASE and playing a fair amount in the last year and trying to apply them.

It says it's a dungeon at the bottom - so it's a dungeon!


This may be obvious to a lot of people, but an inclusive 'whole world' dungeon like the Apollyon is limiting in that it eliminates the 'overland travel' aspect of the game.  One can't hex or point crawl very well inside a dungeon (though with a giant level, such as Pat Wetmore has suggested for ASE level 5, or the classic D&D underdark are quite possible) and the HMS APOLLYON with it's fixed dimensions (even if it is a fundamentally un-mappable 11,039,846,400 - 735,989,760,000 cubic feet) is too small and cluttered for a hex crawl even using an underdark style system.  This has lead me to thinking up different kinds of dungeon experiences rather than the adventure of disvoering new lands and interacting with randomly generated wilderness that is standard for mid level play.


Without wilderness, I've had to use different types of dungeon adventures beyond the classic free form exploration dungeon.  Below are my thoughts on the types of adventures and dungeons that support them.  The idea is to create different sorts of fun for different sessions.  Here's the one's I've run and the thoughts I have:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Shaman Spell Lists of the Mater Milia - Pahvelorn House Rules

In Brendan of Necropraxis' long running G+ game Vaults of Pahvelorn, due to the slow evolution of the game world, it recently made sense for my thief to hire a henchman/spiritual adviser name Lau Taxan. Lau is a former clerk and embezzler out of the holy city of Illum-Zugot, but he is also chosen by the rat goddess, and after a few months of adventuring he developed the abilities of a rat priest.

Der Rattenkonig
Now one of the things that's developed in Pahvelorn is an interesting religious dichotomy between followers of the orthodox sky religion, the Eternal Empire and the resurgent cults of old local spirits.  Many local spirit cults are animal in nature, and have very different powers.  In order to make this religious split interesting (it's changed party dynamics a bit - with (arguably evil) the thief and child witch trying to outdo the (arguably good) two clerics with good acts to prove their dubious rat deity is a more generous god than the Empire. One could also comment that the PCs religious beliefs have made the party less mercenary, and more focused on helping the various towns and human civilizations rather than narrowly focused on loot and advancement.

Under Brendan's rules, the distinction between the way priests and traditional religious practitioners work is interesting with an entirely different kind of casting and limited menu of spells based on summoned spirit.  Details on the Cult can be found in this post about Lau Taxan, but it has recently been described as "Rat focused Marxism" and indeed a common mantra of its worshipers is "To the glory of the Mother according to her needs, from each according to ability"

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Death of Ginny Bo - Pahvelorn Play Report

 Ginny-Bo, octogenarian swordsman lies dead, his body brutalized by the axe of a bandit just beyond the skull marked doors that are the entrance to Pahvelorn's lower halls.  Ginny-Bo, originally hired in the slums of Illum-Zugot, was not only a mascot for the adventurous band sometimes called the Order of Gavin, but also a valued member of the group, responsible for landing the fatal blows on many dangerous enemies.

The insane old man's current self-granted title (as recited to his enemies before battle) was "Ginny-Bo, warrior of the black demon helm, giant killer, wielder of the devil sword Oby-nnig (his own name backwards - the sword is not magical), sludgifier of the great wyrm, dragon slayer, dragon friend." Since his death the band's powerful priests, Karna and Tarvis both continue to fuss over Bo's body performing exhausting rituals seeking to bring Ginny-Bo's elderly frame back to life. His wounds are closed with molten gold, and prayers on the purest squares cut from the hides of the rare white deer are burned.  It is unclear if these efforts will succeed in reviving Ginny-Bo's battered corpse, but it is a testament to how valuable the party finds him that they are conducting the ritual.

The ill fated expedition back to Pahvelorn occurred almost as an after thought, with the adventures spending much of the week trying to determine how to get rid of a dragon, soul-bound to Eariyara as a result of last week's battle with Purgle the Brown.  Purgle's electrocuted body was left to rot between his magical bonfires, and he and his boat looted.  On Purgle's body Eariyara discovered a magical ring, inscribed with the name of an ancient dragon "Melisophotis the Terrible".  Using the ring a wizard can command the dragon, though it has a chance of breaking free, but once worn the dragon and wizard are irrevocably bonded.  The party collected a number of treasures from Purgle's boat and and settled down to wait for the dragon's return, hidden amongst the trees.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Thoughts on running a Viking Game

Of late I've been reading some Viking history.  Also a bit about about the Saxon conquest of Britain and am struck by how these time periods might lend themselves to mid-level D&D play.  Generally the dreary heroic and bloody minded nature of the primary sources have the sort of convoluted level of double crosses, poor hasty decisions and pointless feuds that I expect from a game of D&D.  However I don't think the game rules as written really work well for modeling the feel of Dark Ages epics, and my mantra in games has really been, house rules/mechanics must work towards a feeling for the game.

A Pict - 19th century
I am struck by a couple things in the Dark Ages/Viking history and sagas that D&D models badly.  The first is combat, the second magic. Basically the entire subject of dark Age's literature.  Northern European Dark Ages combat seems to have been split into two different kinds of fighting.  First, challenges and ritual one on one combat between leaders or champions and second shield walls pushing at each other until one side broke or gave up and tried to run (with often fatal consequences).  In both cases what you have is a champion or group of champions in better armor, with better weapons and a supporting body of spear and shield armed fodder. The leaders/champions do the work of breaking through the enemy shield wall and killing eachother, while the rest just make sure they don't get surrounded. Basically a warband is a D&D party where the fighters predominate and have a mess of henchmen. 

Here are aspects that need rule changes designed to encourage the feeling of Saga combat where the heroes do most of the "fighting", and it's heroic action that turns the tide of battle, but without a mass of henchmen a warrior is not especially effective against large numbers.  I'd propose using OD&D D6 damage, AC and HD rules because these generally lead to quick and dangerous combat. The changes made however make personal skill and Strength of Fighters more important.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bonfires in the Forest - a Pahvelorn Play Report (Session 34)

Beni Profane, knight of Gazemoral, Rat catcher, Devotee of the cult of Mother of Thousands, Yegg and Road Warden along with his spiritual advisor Lau Taxan and his regular group of companions set off in pursuit of the dragon that had smashed the gates of Gazemoral and ravaged it's populace.

These Guys - A Classic
Beni's companions consist of several adventurers and henchmen. Tarvis the crusader, who despite his adherence to the new religion of the Eternal Empire has piratical mores, similar to Beni's, that have been honed by many months of grave robbing and a penchant for training animals.  Tarvis is accompanied by his taciturn companion Darullian, a former farm boy and now skilled man at arms. Eariyara a pre-teen sorceress whose power has grown frightfully as she plumbs the ancient secrets recovered from the ruins, or snatched bloodily from other wizards. Eariyara's age and sinister aspect have given her some difficulty in hiring competent assistants, but he is always accompanied by Ginny-Bo, an elderly dare devil, who seeks to die violently in battle but has so far only shown a knack for survival, overweening ego, and faculty for slaughtering dangerous monsters.  Eariyara's other companion is a clumsy mercenary named Fitzwalter, who seems oddly content to guard the young wizardess. The band's final long time member is Bishop Karna, newly elevated, a prodigy of faith and clearly touched by the divine.  Karna's loyalty to the Priest King of Illum-Zugot makes Beni distrust him, as does his love of summoning snakes to poison and devour his enemies.  Karna has finally hired an assistant, an untested former gladiator woman named Haxeth.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Illusionist as a Magic-User hybrid

I have been thinking about illusionists, much in the same way that I redesigned the Assassin for my home ASE game, I think the illusionist is worth a few changes.  I've made them a bit of an odd hybrid between thief and magic user, though the illusionist as written is a lot closer to a wizard specifically trained in large scale combat (illusions work really well on masses of low level troops) and intrigue.  Something like a vizer to kings, rather than a dungeoneer (given their lack of utility spells related to physical challenges).  I hope that my changes bring the class back a bit closer to its concept of a nimble trickster.

This could work as an ASE character
Illusionists have a pretty cool spell list.  It gets absurdly powerful at high levels (though arguably no more so than Magic User) and starts out roughly the same, but with wildly impossible statistic requirements (15 + Intelligence, 16 + Dexterity and no stats below 6 except Constitution) it seems appropriate to make Illusionists something special.  The idea of illusionists as written is insufficiently novel as well.  Sure there's a new spell list that is themed around confusion and phantasm but little else is provided in the Player's Handbook to define what exactly an illusionist is compared to a magic-user, except rather they are rather nimble.

To my mind Illusionists are something more than that, they are self-taught magical auto-didacts from a different tradition than academic thaumaturges.  In my ASE game I've always envisioned them as members of traveling circuses, lone wandering wonder workers, or the hedge wizards employed by rural bandits.  Magically talented people who have gotten by on a scrap or two of stolen knowledge and sheer ability to warp reality rather than careful study.