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Thursday, 19 April 2018

Classic Rant: Chaos vs. Law in Dark Albion (as Opposed to WFRP)

Some people have criticized Dark Albion for not being 'chaos-threatening' enough.  Sure, there's an entire kingdom of chaos monsters in control of a major area just across the pond from Albion, but (according to these people) chaos seems too distant and/or too manageable.

Their argument is that Chaos should be more like it is in Warhammer: this vile insidious force that inexorably pushes against the realms of Law, that is almost destined to consume the world, against which nations of Law (and the PCs) can only at most fight a holding action.  The Call of Cthulhu school of cosmological disaster, I guess.

(look at this cover: this is supposed to be the cover of the holy warriors and good guys. Seriously)

But it's true. Albion isn't like that. Chaos is different in Albion, the balance of power between Chaos and Law is different. And I'll explain why:

Dark Albion tries to be a medieval-authentic RPG.  WFRP does not. 

Dark Albion is simply better at representing the world as it was back then, and not just because Albion's "the Continent" is closer physically to historical Europe than WFRP's "the Old World".

No, I'm talking about differences in the Moral Universe here.

WFRP, like most RPGs, is ultimately presenting a world that may have more or less elements of historical reference to our own world (WFRP's setting has a few more than, say, Greyhawk), but that is viewed from a moral/philosophical lens totally rooted in our own 20th century viewpoints.

D&D's is one of a highly modernist, relativist, baby-boomer hippie type of view of some kind of cosmic balance around which the 9 alignments are all completely evenly matched.

WFRP's is a more post-modernist, post-hippie and utterly cynical viewpoint that dominates our current paradigm. You could call it 'apocalyptic' but in fact for reasons I will bring up later that'd be totally wrong. It's just nihilistic. It is the view that is left to us when we are taught that nothing is actually true, nothing is actually worthy of being maintained, nothing can be held up and only naive idiots think anything is worth fighting for, except maybe for tearing down and destroying everything.  In WFRP you play the 'good guys' but you actually root for the bad guys. The lords of Chaos are the cool ones, as everyone knows, but more importantly they're the ones who are RIGHT. Law is a sucker's bet. It's doomed. And so all the paladins and heroes who fight for law are basically morons, and this is part of the (civilization-hating) joke.

It's not in any way a medieval view. Or early-modern, or enlightenment, or Victorian. It is a moral paradigm that can only possibly exist in this utterly spoiled generation of self-hating westerners.

But I'm not here today to rant about post-modernism. I'm here to explain what's different in Dark Albion.  In Albion, the moral universe itself is MEDIEVAL.  It is based on a world-view, and I'll note that this is the ONLY way that you can effectively roleplay a culture that would be medieval-authentic, that holds that Law is actually much more powerful than Chaos.

Chaos wins when it manages to subvert or undermine Law, or when people who serve Law turn away from it. Or when they fight amongst themselves, as is happening in Albion during the setting period (where Chaos creatures, sects, and dark magic that had not been seen in Albion proper in centuries are coming back to infringe upon civilized lands because of the Chaos being generated by the Rose War).

But as a cosmic force, Law is supreme. Chaos is legion and divided; so in my game you never see the various agents of Chaos really co-operating as it's just not in their nature (and likewise, what this means is that no two demons are quite the same, nor are any two chaos cults the same).  But Law is only ONE. There is only one true God of Law; on the Continent he's the Unconquered Sun, in the lands of the Turk he's the Crescent Moon (though the common folk don't realize it's the same deity), and in other places he may have other names but he's really just a single force.
It was very important to me, even if I didn't want to use Christianity as such for other reasons, that the setting be MONOTHEISTIC.  You can totally have a medieval paradigm with or without many things, but you can't take out the monotheism and still really be anywhere near the mark.

Part of the medieval paradigm is triumphalism: God will win over chaos. Even the apocalyptic movements, preaching disaster and lamenting the growth of evil in the world, are all ultimately prophesying  a time when The Man Comes Around and there'll be trumpets and pipers and a hundred million angels singing and the Righteous will be Righteous still and the filthy will be filthy still. That's why I say WFRP is NOT 'apocalyptic' in the medieval sense, because it is a nihilist apocalypse of Chaos consuming everything, not a true Apocalypse in the religious sense where Law triumphs and establishes a Kingdom that will Reign Forever.

So what does this mean in actual play? Doesn't it make actual play more lame? After all if you are playing in a universe where Law is way more powerful you know that ultimately the Unconquered Sun will triumph and set things right so why fucking bother?

I think you have to look at it the opposite way: in WFRP, nothing you do matters. In the end you know Slaneesh and Nurgle and company are going to end up devouring everything and any effort you make is for nothing. You will die sooner or you will die later but eventually everyone loses.  It is naive and stupid to serve Law in that setting.

In Dark Albion, the tragedy is that man falls to Chaos. It's not a tragedy in WFRP, it's just a foregone conclusion and probably the smart bet. In Dark Albion, the fact that it doesn't actually have to happen makes it MUCH MUCH WORSE that the Frankland Kings were so weak and decadent that they let their lands be taken away from them by the Frogmen. It makes it so much worse that Vlad Tepes, who was hailed as the greatest living hero of the Unconquered Sun by the Pontifex, would (as he lay dying following betrayal at his own brother's hands) not look up and be ready for Union with the Sun but instead whisper a prayer of revenge to dark forces that they might make him their champion all so that he could, in his pride and wrath, slaughter and feast on the blood of those who betrayed him and his land.  It makes it so much more awful that in Albion, cousins are engaging in brutal war with each other and bringing the land into anarchy so that Goblins and elves and the living dead begin to come back from the lonely places and infringe on the work that ages and great kings had wrought to push Chaos back.

In WFRP, any of the above would just be par for the course. It would just be what should happen, cosmologically speaking; what makes sense in that world.  In Dark Albion, it's horrific because it is an anomaly and an abomination against Law.

(In WFRP, the Chaos menace is from an army of 20000 beastmen or something; in Dark Albion this moment right here is the 'chaos menace')

The menace of Chaos in Albion isn't that it is way more powerful than Law, it doesn't immediately threaten to overwhelm us all. The menace of Chaos in Albion is found in the weakness of men, and the tragedy of failing to live up to duty. The worst kind of tragedy is the preventable tragedy. This is Sin, in the especially medieval pre-Luthor view; the world is not inextricably evil (like the Gnostic heretics would have you believe), but rather the kingdom of god we could make here on Earth is thwarted by that weakness within one's heart that rejects virtues and falls to vices.
Defeating Chaos means doing that which is hard but which is right.

And in actual play, your characters can of course end up being killed by Chaos. At the skirmish level Chaos is incredibly dangerous. If you play an Inquisitor group and go looking for Chaos the assumption is you won't get to be an old man who dies in his bed. But (unlike in WFRP) what you are doing ACTUALLY MAKES SENSE. It actually MEANS something. There's actually a point to it. You are agents of Law out to set things right.
Of course you can still be mercenaries in it for yourselves in the game, but even there it is also made more significant by virtue of the fact that what you do totally matters more. Even if you choose to play a servant of Chaos it matters more (because there should be a bigger reason for siding with Chaos, or a more significantly personal one, in a setting where Chaos is not actually the stronger power).
What you do has MEANING, in the medieval paradigm. You are tremendously important because the world itself is infused with meaning. Whereas in WFRP (and most RPG settings) what you do has no real meaning to the larger cosmos. In games like Greyhawk or the FR, it all just balances out; whereas in WFRP (like in CoC) the universe is utterly meaningless.

The medieval worldview is a world where things matter. It is a world where everything has meaning. It makes individuals living under that paradigm much more significant and conversely much less self-centered than in our post-modern paradigm that says nothing at all is meaningful except your most immediate feelings and impulses.

So this is the difference. WFRP is a 20th century setting in renaissance drag. Dark Albion is a medieval/early-renaissance setting for reals.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Bent Billiard + Image Latakia

(Originally Posted January 25, 2016)

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

RPGPundit Presents: The Midnight Duke

Today, I give you a medieval-authentic adventure, but one that is a pretty straightforward adventuring type adventure, with some serious opponents for the PCs to confront.

RPGPundit Presents #28: The Midnight Duke is an adventure outside the borders of any Crown, beyond any law, where men with power can carve out their own little fiefdoms.  Now, the bastard son of a noble house has made himself into a mighty warlord, and plans to wreak havoc on all who oppose him.  But behind his power is not just mortal magic, but something much more sinister and dangerous.

The Midnight Duke is an adventure that's challenging for mid or high level characters, and very deadly for low level characters.

Pick it up today for just $2.99 at DTRPG, or at the Precis Intermedia Website!

And while you're at it, be sure to pick up the rest of the great supplements in the RPGPundit Presents series:

RPGPundit Presents #1: DungeonChef!

RPGPundit Presents #2: The Goetia  (usable for Lion & Dragon!)

RPGPundit Presents #3: High-Tech Weapons

RPGPundit Presents #5: The Child-Eaters (an adventure scenario for Lion & Dragon!)

RPGPundit Presents #17: The Hunters (an adventure for Lion & Dragon!)

RPGPundit Presents #21: Hecate's Tomb (an adventure for Lion & Dragon!)

Stay tuned for more next week!


Currently smoking: Brigham Anniversary + Image Latakia

Monday, 16 April 2018

RPGPundit Presents #27: Gestión de Territorios y Combate de Masas

Ahora en Castellano!

Para cualquier juego OSR o basado en D&D! Y solo $2.99!

Añade reglas básicas para gestionar una casa noble, midiendo su poder militar, financiero y político. Y cuando el conflicto entre territorios estalle, determina los vencedores y vencidos de las maniobras políticas y militares, y sus efectos sobre los personajes jugadores.

 Gestión de Territorios y Combate de Masas se puede comprar en DTRPG, o en el sitio web de Precis Intermedia


Currently Smoking: Neerup Acorn + Image Virginia 

Sunday, 15 April 2018

L&D Campaign Update: Hecate's Tomb

So in this weekend's session of Lion & Dragon, I ran a special variant of the adventure "Hecate's Tomb" from RPGPundit Presents #21. Mostly, the 'variant' part was setting it in a different location, in Salisbury instead of Blackheath.

It worked quite well! The group consisted of a pair of Magisters (with very different skills), a roguish Cymri, a Cleric and his (0-level) Neophyte apprentice, and a foreign barbarian (a friend of mine, visiting from Canada, with limited Spanish skills).

By the end of it all, the cleric was dead, the party split, and for no good reason, the barbarian had set half the town of Devises on fire!

The main issue featured the disappearance of some merchants on a small road; which most people suspected was due to banditry but who the PCs' patron suspected was something supernatural. He turned out to be right. A freeholding family had discovered some ancient Roman ruins, and these ruins contained a temple to the "goddess Hecate" (really a demon), began to worship, and used the demonic gifts they were granted to waylay, rob and murder travelers past their farmstead.

The PCs found the ruins, the family got away, and when they explored the ruins they found a section that the family had never discovered (and thus hadn't already looted).  It was full of treasure, but also a tomb of the old Roman priestess of Hecate. The two magisters freaked out, sure it was going to be something supernatural, and ran for it. The Clerics and the Cymri stayed behind, and of course, disturbing the tomb, awoke a Wraith they were horribly under-equipped to fight.

The player of the Cleric, who turned out to be the unfortunate victim of the wraith (while the other fled), is my newest player, and this is actually the first campaign he's ever played. This was literally the first time he's ever had a PC die.

Luckily, he took it well!

Anyways, everyone felt the adventure was fantastic, and had a great time. Even the barbarian, who mostly ignored the entire plot to go on a murder-and-arsonism spree.

That's it for today, I'm off to the street fair!


Currently Smoking: Castello Fiammata + Image Virginia

Saturday, 14 April 2018

RPGPundit Reviews: Raiders of R'lyeh

This is a review of the RPG "RPGPundit Reviews: Raiders of R'lyeh: Gothic Black & White Edition". Published by the Cipher Bureau, it was written by Quentin Bauer. This is, as always, a review of a print edition, which is a hardcover with an Indiana Jones type of character on the cover, a decent amount of illustrations, and it comes in at just over 250 pages.

Before continuing, I need to mention that I'm credited as a Special Consultant on this book. It was the next major project I worked on right after D&D 5th Edition, and I had a significant part in its design.  I'll be making every effort to be totally honest in the review, but I have some obvious bias in the matter as some of the influence is my own.

This book is part of a Kickstarter project, which took several years past schedule to be fulfilled.  But I'm certainly glad, given my own involvement, that it finally has been fulfilled and it's finally available.

In brief, Raiders is a variant of Call of Cthulhu. It uses the D100 system, but has some significant variations from the standard CoC rules. Those differences extend to the setting and themes.  In terms of the former, Raiders is set earlier, in the 1910s rather than the 20s, in the twilight of the Edwardian age leading into the horrors of the First World War. It is in some ways a more exciting time, and the theme of the decadence and the underlying impending upheaval of everything the world knows adds a different kind of tone than that of a game set in the roaring 20s.

Raiders is also more pulp-oriented than standard CoC. The PCs are certainly not supermen, but there's a generally more action-oriented aspect to Raiders than the standard CoC-RPG conceit of dusty academics pussyfooting their way through an investigation. This by itself already makes the game very different.

As you'll see, it also takes a different approach to some of the supernatural elements. Including coverage of magic that is partially historical, with much more of an influence from ideas actual occultists of the age (the Theosophists, the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley and all of that crowd) had about the supernatural.

Even before we get into the book itself, just by the table of contents, we get a fantastic period map of "Massachusetts and Rhode Island". It's just the start of a recurring dedication to setting detail that's quite fantastic; certainly on par with the best of Call of Cthulhu, if not superior.

The introduction of the book beings with "it is the year 1910. It is an imperial age of crumbling empires, dangerous adventures, and rotting decadence".  Those two lines capture completely the spirit of what Bauer wants his setting to be, and be about.

The basic introduction is followed up by a short essay on "The Mythos and the Imperial Age". It talks about all the context of the Lovecraft circle and its notions of the mythos, but expands this literary context to include the great Victorian and Edwardian writers like H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sax Rohmer, Talbot Mundy, and Harold Lamb. The mythos of the Imperial Age needs to have all the horror of the standard CoC play, but also "colonial adventuring", in exotic and far flung locations. Bauer insists that "more than dealing with just academic concerns", heroes of Raiders should interact with "warlords, mercenaries, spies of enemy empires, hostile natives, smugglers, occultists and other supernatural threats, and various other undesirables".  I couldn't agree more.

He tries to back up his reasoning for this very different approach from the standard "academics doing a lot of investigating and then getting themselves killed" model of CoC by invoking the work of Robert E. Howard (who you may already know was not just the creator of Conan but also a significant contributor to the Mythos).

What follows is a very detailed breakdown of what the Edwardian age was like, covering everything from the cultural and political situation to arts, sports, and religion. There's also a timeline dating from 1869 to 1914.

The game system is going to be largely recognizable to anyone who's ever played CoC. You get the standard attributes for the most part (replacing Charisma for Appearance, and without the Education attribute).
Instead of Sanity, you get Rationality, which "reflects the character's carefully constructed worldview". Rationality is the ability of the character withstand challenges to his perceptions of reality.
There's several derived stats, including 'Trauma', which represent the amount of mental damage a character can take before having psychological strain; and 'mettle points', which can be spent to alter a specific check to the PCs' favor.

Social standing is another very important characteristic, and is rolled on a table (with two different categories: 'privileged' and 'disadvantaged' for minority groups; and further divided into 'industrialized cultures', 'agrarian cultures' and 'tribal cultures').
Social standing determines your standard of living, but also your 'class and credit', which reflects your access to money, to trust, and to networking. It will also have an effect on what kind of professional background a character can have (and thus what skills he'll have access to).

Skills are based on percentiles; everyone has a set of common skills. On top of this, you get a set of professional skills which you can put points into. Characters must also select places of origin, languages, religion, personal history and cultural background. It can also be important to determine a character's family ties (there's even an optional table of dark family secrets), and a character or their family will belong to a given 'circle of influence' (an "abstraction representing social networks and organizations" with which a PC routinely interacts). Sample circles include academic, bohemian, colonial, criminal, high society, Intelligence, martial, and occult. Later on in the book there's mechanics for working with circles of influence; for the time it takes when reaching out to people in your circles, for exchanges of favors, and more.

The book provides a number of templates for different professions, including artist, cleric, criminal, detective, dilettante, drifter, emissary, engineer, entertainer, explorer, fighter, herder, hunter, landlord, magus, mariner, merchant, miner, physician, reporter, scholar, scientist, scout, servant, solicitor, spy, thief, or tradesman.  Each profession will list some variations on type, common skills, professional skills, and special abilities.

Besides this, characters also select an essential Nature. These are archetypes like the every-man, outsider, scoundrel, sleuth, socialite, specialist, thrill-seeker or tough. They come with their own common and professional skills, and with a table for selecting or rolling a "drive" (what motivates the character to adventure).

Character age is also an important choice. Age determines a number of free extra skill points (the older you are, the more skill points you get) and determines the maximum number of skill points you can put into a single skill. Characters who are very young (children) or older than 40 get penalties for age.

Skills are all described in significant detail. Most skills start out based on a combination of two ability scores (for example, Sleight of Hand is a combination of DEX + CHA). There are rules for getting assistance from other characters, for augmenting skills, levels of success, dramatic skill sequences and more. There's also extensive rules for investigation. Note that these are not rules that hand-wave investigation or allow for some kind of storygaming 'manipulation of reality'.

The section on wealth and equipment is very detailed. It starts out with a list of international monetary exchange rates as of 1909! And it's quite thorough; I was surprised to learn that back then 1 Uruguayan Peso was worth $1.034 USD (nowadays its worth about $0.036 USD)!

In many campaigns, characters can work out their standard of living based entirely on social class, and there's rules for the costs of living beyond your means. There's also lists of sample earnings, costs of housing, clothing, tools, miscellaneous items, armor, travel costs, mounts and livestock, vehicles (with rules for vehicle traits and descriptions), weapons and ammo (again with traits and rules, including extensive lists of firearms by country of origin dating back about 40  years from the starting date of the campaign), and there's also rules for repairing and inventing equipment.

The chapter on game mechanics covers all types of incidentals, including keeping track of time, and the effects of aging. The section on attributes is fascinating because it includes a list of some of the most powerful people in each area at the time of the setting (so for example, William Howard Taft has the largest size score, Mary Pickford the most Charisma, Aleister Crowley the most Power).
There's also material on health and healing, and how to govern Drives and Bonds; note that with these latter two the mechanics are presented as entirely optional (in case the GM doesn't want to mechanize these fundamental aspects of roleplaying). There's material on acid, fire, poison, disease, radiation and many more sorts of conditions; and then of course the material on insanity.

With the latter, rationality works in that characters get temporary traumatic effects if they take damage to Rationality greater than their "Trauma" rating (a derived attribute). There are separate results of the type of trauma affecting the PC if the source of the trauma was Dread/Despair, or shock/awe, or Cosmic Terror. If in the process of making a horror check a character fumbles his roll, they gain a permanent new mental disorder. If their rationality ever hits zero, they become incurably mad.
So not terribly different from Sanity points in CoC, but with a couple of important differences: first, the detail and attention to the effects of failure, but second, that what you check is not always Rationality itself.  If you are faced with shock and awe, you roll on your Willpower; if you are faced with dread/despair, on your Fortitude, and if faced with Cosmic Terror you check your Rationality directly. In all cases, though, 'damage' is dealt to rationality.
Guidelines are provided for what type of horrible events require checks, plus the kind of check it would be and the rationality lost if failed. There's also guidelines for receiving treatment to recover from trauma.

The combat rules are quite detailed, and includes a large number of optional rules depending on how detailed you want your combat system to be.
The game has an interesting take on combat skills; instead of having specific skills (eg. 'shotgun', 'pistol', 'sword', etc), characters can be trained in a Fighting Method. So for example, a character who was a Texas Ranger could have a "Fighting Method (Ranger)" skill, which would encompass fighting with pistols, rifles, and shotguns. A Philippine "Moro" insurgent could have "Fighting Method (Moro)" which encompasses knives, sticks and grappling.  Characters using weapons that are not typical to their fighting style based on background or profession would have to roll those weapons at their basic level and could gain experience with those weapons as specific separate skills to the overall Fighting Method skill they have access to. There are optional rules for characters with a Fighting Method to get access to special bonus abilities (special moves, etc).

The magic section (which I will remind readers I had quite a lot to do with creating) divides the supernatural into two classifications: "Occult" and "Mythos". Occult magic is pretty much like how real-world magic functions in the sense that it is mostly internalized stuff that operates by changing the person who uses it or learns how to apply senses to making sophisticated changes in the environment or predicting developments to the degree that it seems to be control over coincidence. The sort of stuff that a skeptic could easily dismiss.
Mythos magic is the big full blown spells that typically open gates to Tentacle-town.

The book provides details for how you learn occult spells, with prerequisites to the occult skill level for the number of spells you can gain. There's guidelines for learning under a group or lodge, or learning from a text or a mentor.

Mythos magic, on the other hand, depends much less on study or occult skill level (though sometimes the occult skill can obviously still be relevant to obtaining the spell) and much more on one's willingness to give up some of one's own humanity in dark pacts with horrible entities. There's rules provided for making pacts with mythos entities, the strength of those pacts, the gifts they provide, and examples of the same.

Using spells that are connected to especially powerful entities, or using spells beyond one's ability level, can cause corruption. This requires a check, where failure will cause visible (negative) changes in the person's appearance.

Casting most spells require a cost of Essence points (a derived attribute), and also rationality points. So certainly, just as it should be in a game where the Mythos exists, magic of any kind is challenging and dangerous. Spells also require a willpower roll to succeed, with chances of criticals (that reduce the costs) or fumbles (which can result in unpredictable mishaps).

There's details on dozens of spells, of varying levels of power. In additional to these, there's also some Rituals to create objects and the like.

It should be noted that these aren't nearly as based on real 1900s magic as Lion & Dragon's magic system is based on real medieval magic; it's just not possible for it to be. The emphasis of the system is based more on it's playability for pulp/mythos gaming rather than for precise historical recreation of the sort of stuff Aleister Crowley or the Golden Dawn got up to.
And that's probably OK. A choice needed to be made and it was more important that Raiders be, first and foremost, what it was supposed to be: a mythos game first. But all that said, it still has a much more authentic feel to it than standard CoC has.

There's a big section on occult-texts, which exemplifies this approach.  You get descriptions and details of some famous occult texts, including classic (invented) mythos books like the Necronomicon or the Vermis Mysteris, but also real-life occult books like the Book of the Law or the Goetia. Then you also get a big set of rules and tables to make new occult texts for your campaign, with lots of practical guidance to make the process easy.

There's also guidelines for creating Occult Paths, that create a framework for Occultist PCs and NPCs. These include generic paths, like "Demonology", "Exorcism", and "Hermeticism"; and archetypes like "Occult Fraud", "Reformed Occultist", and "Occult Detective".

The section on Mythos creatures is a pretty straightforward bestiary; listing creatures minor and major, with details as to their traits, motivations, and some quote from a mythos story where they're featured. The minor entities have stats. The major ones do not (since destroying them would really be beyond the scope of human ability), but instead have a great deal more information, mostly along the lines of "unreliable testimony", different bullet-points of lore that aren't all going to be right (and it's up to the GM to decide which are and which aren't).

The next chapter naming itself "Story Creation" doesn't fill one with confidence, except that the very first lines in that chapter firmly state that the default mode of Raiders is to play in the Sandbox style. This is something very different than what you normally do with Call of Cthulhu.  CoC has some truly awesome adventures, but most of them are more or less linear; even the most open of the great CoC adventures try to lead the PCs along. There's lots of guidance for how to make a sandbox campaign, by focusing on timelines and creating a central threat, and dropping plot hooks along for PCs to investigate as they want. There's also guidelines for structuring adventures.

The books appendix contains a bunch of 'sourcebook' material. This includes stuff like the hierarchy of 1910 police departments; distances, times and fares for trolleys in New England, seaport distances in miles, average durations of sea voyages, and travel times by train.  The last page before the index talks about some of the major influences on the design of the game, noting some of the people (including yours truly) who helped shape Raiders into what it is.

On the whole, I think it's fair to say this is a fine product. However, this is not the culmination of what Raiders of R'lyeh has to offer. Instead, that would be the Raiders of R'lyeh Gamemaster's Guide and Core Rules, the more complete product of almost double the size, which I'll be reviewing in the near future to explain what else it contains.


Neerup Acorn + Image Virginia

Friday, 13 April 2018

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Classic Rant: How Random Tables IMPROVE the Immersive Quality of Setting

GOOD random tables end up enhancing, rather than taking away from, the quality of a Living World. Combined with GM interpretation (in the same way a GM would interpret any other setting material that didn't originate from his own thoughts, adapting it to fit his particular campaign), the quality of random tables can create a level of connection to the non-active consciousness that makes the world seem more alive.

The thing is, a setting can't be a living world if it's operating ONLY at the level of the GM's conscious mind and direct thoughts. Not only would the surface level of consciousness be unable to catalog every detail of the world or every characteristic of the npcs/creatures/things in it, but the experience of it from the GM's point of view would be more like an automaton than an organism.

So random tables help the process of that switch, of the GM's own Immersion INTO his living world. They're not exactly necessary, but they can be tremendously useful, for the same reason that randomness in character creation is useful.

Have you ever seen a player, playing in point-buy or other mostly non-random systems (even D&D from 3e onward), make a character, and then you realize that this character aside from some mechanical differences is basically the same guy they were playing last time, and the time before that? 
Sometimes they may even choose a different class, and yet you'll still get that feeling!

This is because it can often be hard for people to slip fully out of the level of their conscious mind; even if they're trying at all. The Imagination is a tricky thing, and it's easy to choose the path of least resistance, and what that leaves you with is a sense of a character OR a world that's quite flat.

A random table, a well-crafted random table (or other random methods) can help with this sort of thing specifically by introducing an X-factor; something that won't come out of one's immediate intellect. Add that factor, and then figure out how you can accommodate it into your world, and suddenly it forces a level of creativity you wouldn't have had before.

Random tables are a motiveless, neutral tool for bringing out the inner life of a setting.


Currently Smoking: Neerup Poker + Stanislaw Winter Flake

(Originally posted January 4, 2016)

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

New Video: Do We Need a #DnDGate?

Well, I got some good responses to my little review video, and I've been thinking about starting to do more of these, and also to do a kind of talk show.

But for today, I talk about my recent experience being at the center of a huge Internet Outrage Shitstorm, all because I dared to say that people who don't play D&D aren't actually part of the D&D hobby.  See my reasoning behind it, and why I think the response to this perfectly simple statement tells me we might need to start a "#DnDGate" movement.

Check it out:

And let me know what you think!


Currently smoking: Raleigh Hawkbill + Image Virginia

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

My Simple Domain Management and Mass Combat Rules Now Available!

So it's that time again; this week sees the release of RPGPundit Presents #27: Simple Domain Management and Mass Combat.

This is a special kind of issue, because if you've got the Dark Albion setting, you already own pretty much everything in here.  These are the same domain management and mass combat rules as found in the Dark Albion book, with the exception that they've been altered to not be specific for Albion but generic for any Medieval-Authentic OSR game.

Why did I issue this supplement? Because I figured there might be some people who'd like having a set of easy, semi-abstract rules for handling large territories through political, military and economic mechanics, and for handling mass combat battles, for Lion & Dragon or another OSR game, but who (for whatever crazy reason) did not want to buy Dark Albion.

So fine, here they are. The complete rules, stripped of references to the Rose War or Albion in particular, for you to make use of, for just $2.99!

You can pick up Simple Domain Management and Mass Combat at DTRPG, or at the Precis Intermedia website.

And while you're at it, be sure to pick up the rest of the great supplements in the RPGPundit Presents series:

RPGPundit Presents #1: DungeonChef!

RPGPundit Presents #2: The Goetia  (usable for Lion & Dragon!)

RPGPundit Presents #3: High-Tech Weapons

RPGPundit Presents #5: The Child-Eaters (an adventure scenario for Lion & Dragon!)

RPGPundit Presents #17: The Hunters (an adventure for Lion & Dragon!)

RPGPundit Presents #21: Hecate's Tomb (an adventure for Lion & Dragon!)

Stay tuned for more next week!


Currently smoking: Brigham Anniversary + Image Latakia

Monday, 9 April 2018

Mutant Hordes of the Last Sun: Ahora en Castellano!

So Mutant Hordes of the Last Sun, which got a lot of great responses, is now available in Spanish.  In English, you can find out more about the supplement here.

En el descabellado mundo del Último Sol, los seres humanos son una raza en peligro de extinción. La era del Gran Desastre provocó un daño ecológico enorme al mundo. No sólo murieron gran cantidad de humanos, sino que muchos más mutaron en horribles monstruos y razas monstruosas. Crea personajes mutantes para tus partidas gonzo, desde los Mutantes de Color y los Dorados hasta los Veganos y los Mutantes de Barro. Determina sus capacidades especiales, como cíclope, verrugoso y psíquico.

Pueden comprar "Hordas Mutantes Del Ultimo Sol" en DTRPG, o en la tienda online de Precis Intermedia!


Currently Smoking: Mastro De Paja Bent Apple + H&H's Chestnut 

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Wild West Campaign Update: The French Chef

The session started out with Crazy Miller showing just how crazy he really was. He hired the Cowboys (specifically, Johnny Ringo via Curly Bill Brocius) to assassinate Texas Buck, the wealthy rancher who'd married his childhood beau, the Countess (her title coming from her first marriage). This was after the Countess had been nothing but trouble for him when she was in town. In spite of that, he was hoping that if her husband was out of the way she might come back to him.

This turned out to be a crucial adventure-altering event, because it caused Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo to be out of town.

Meanwhile, Kid/Doc Taylor and his business partner Buckskin Frank Leslie had completed the construction of the Cosmopolitan Saloon & Hotel. And it was pretty magnificent.

Having invested thousands into it, they had really pulled out all the stops, and this included hiring a real French chef as their cook. Surprisingly it quickly became a hit with the Cowboys, partly because while Curly Bill was not a man of high society, he was a man who enjoyed fine food.  The Cosmopolitan was right across the street from the Grand Hotel, where Frank Leslie's mistress worked, so it was really ideal for them in every respect.

Marshal Fred White came to see Other Miller, asking his help to go arrest a Cowboy named Springer who had murdered another man after an argument at the poker table in the Tivoli bar. This could be problem, since the Cowboys were meant to be above the law in town, but murder was still murder.

Miller sent Jackson to go looking for one of the Cowboy leaders to try to negotiate a peaceful surrender; unfortunately, Curly Bill wasn't around because of that aforementioned contract Crazy Miller had him working on. So the only leader-figure that Jackson was able to find was Ike Clanton and his brothers.

Ike Clanton was no Curly Bill. He decided that the Cowboys "didn't like no lawmen telling them what to do", and picking Jackson (a black man) as the messenger was about the worst choice Miller could have made.  So pretty soon, Other Miller and Marshall White were facing nine Cowboys all demanding that they let Springer go.

Luckily, Crazy Miller came along, and decided to bank some of the cachet he had with the Cowboys to convince Ike that it would actually be better if he showed his own control of the situation by having the cowboys themselves lead Springer to the jail.  After much discussion, Ike finally agreed; and after that he suggested that Crazy Miller join him in going to the Clanton ranch to talk to his Pa, and explain what had happened.

Now, Old Man Clanton looked like the most hillbilly motherfucker that Crazy Miller had ever seen:

But after about 10 seconds of talking to him, Crazy Miller realized that Clanton acted like this guy:

He even had three kids who were all morons (no midget, though).  Anyways, Crazy Miller suddenly realized much more clearly how the Cowboys had managed to become the most powerful gang in southwest US history.

Pa Clanton had a serious talk with Miller, having realized that in spite of his huge eccentricities, he was also a crafty bastard in some ways like himself. He knew that Tombstone was changing; that damn silver strike was bringing in all kinds of carpet-baggers from back East, hated Republicans and captains of industry who would be trying to force out the Cowboy ways, and that he'd need allies to stop that. In a year, Tombstone was scheduled to have its first mayoral election, and Pa Clanton had heard that a group of mining-industry businessmen had asked the famed adventurer and die-hard Republican John Clum, the only man who had managed to single-handedly capture Geronimo, to come to Tombstone to open a new (Republican) newspaper (the Tombstone Epitaph, which would act as a counterpart to the Cowboy-friendly Democrat paper the Tombstone Nugget).  Pa strongly suspected that they would try to present Clum as the Republican candidate for mayor; and he wanted to present Crazy Miller as the Democrat candidate. Crazy Miller wasn't too keen on this idea, but it became pretty clear to him that the most powerful gangster in the region had just made Miller an offer he can't refuse.

Back in town, Doc Taylor had been visiting the Earps, trying to spread gossip about how Crazy Miller was in bed with the Cowboys. He decided to join Morgan Earp in going to greet John Clum, who was arriving. They were eager to meet the great western hero who had bested the frightful Geronimo, expecting to find a rough tough frontier die-hard. Then they met him:

Suffice it to say that he didn't look like what they expected. But Clum pretty quickly showed himself to be a tough man of law & order. His first priority was going to be to start his paper, condemn the cowboys and set up a Tombstone Vigilance Committee of private citizens opposed to the criminality of the region.  So he looked like this:

But really acted more like this:

Worse still for Doc Taylor, Clum recognized him as Kid Taylor and knew he'd been part of the Dodge City Gang under Hoodoo Brown in East Vegas. He was not impressed.  This couldn't have come at a worse time for Taylor, who had been already networking with some of Tombstone's businessmen to try to get himself into a position of being a "pillar of the community" (his current personal goal).
He decided he was going to try to get Virgil Earp on board with the Vigilance Committee, as a way to get back in the Republicans' good graces.

Another way he hoped to get back into the good books of Tombstone's better class was to try to convince a local German blacksmith to sell his plot to a businessman named Adams; the blacksmith had thus far refused to sell. Taylor wined and dined him with his french chef that night, but unfortunately for him the blacksmith didn't budge.

Later that night, Kid Taylor got a knock on his door. It was his partner, Buckskin Frank. Something had happened at the Hotel. Their chef had apparently killed a man, and then fled.  They got to the hotel and found the body of a man who had been staying there, in the kitchen, very clearly beaten to death with a frying pan.  Fred White had already been brought in. They soon found out that the chef had apparently gone over to the OK Corral and stole a horse. 

Things went from bad to worse when the Cowboys found out. They loved the chef and demanded that he not be sent to hang. Doc Taylor distracted them by sending them on a wild goose chance to Crazy Miller's Argent Saloon.  Then Taylor, Buckskin Frank, and Virgil Earp rode off to look for the Chef, who was not an experienced rider, and who seemed to be trying to dash off in the night heading for Mexico.

The Cowboys were causing quite the ruckus in the Argent, and Crazy Miller tried to keep them occupied with booze.  Other Miller, meanwhile, decided he'd had enough of the Cowboys' nonsense and went to bed.

 The posse found the chef after several hours; he'd caused his horse to stumble, and both the chef and the horse had broken their legs. The horse had to be shot, and the Chef was arrested for murder and horse theft. It didn't look good for him.

It took the posse till morning to get back to Tombstone, and shortly after they'd gotten the chef in jail, they found themselves surrounded by a mob of Cowboys demanding his release.  Virgil Earp was quite willing to shoot any Cowboy that tried to move forward, even though they were outnumbered ten-to-one. But Crazy Miller and Doc Taylor decided to momentarily set aside their differences, and convinced the Cowboys to stand down, pointing out that with the chef's broken leg there wouldn't even be a trial for a week or more until the Doc judged him fit to stand trial, and that Curly Bill would be back by then.

Then Doc Taylor, unwilling to lose his chef, found the owner of the dead horse and bought it off him for $100, to be able to avoid the charge of horse theft.  There was still the matter of the murder, though as the chef told it that had been in self-defense, as the murder victim had come into the kitchen aggressively angry about a sandwich he felt had been made not to his liking. When the chef argued with him the man came at the chef with a knife.

The whole thing was resolved with a very lucky turn: Morgan Earp and Fred White had investigated this guest, and found that he'd signed into the Cosmopolitan hotel under an assumed name. He was actually a man wanted in Texas, with a price on his head: $500, dead or alive. This meant that the chef was not only a free man, he was $500 richer for it ($400 richer after he paid Taylor back for the dead horse).  When the cowboys found out, they hurrahed in glee that their favorite cook was a free man, and carried the chef on their shoulders back to the hotel for some breakfast.

So the whole situation was resolved without a shot fired. It was still a very significant session, as the PCs suddenly found themselves involved in the emerging political situation in Tombstone, and realized they would soon need to take sides.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Poker + Solani Aged Burley Flake

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Classic Rant: The Deadliest Enemy... Rain!

We all know that England is famous for raining, an awful lot. The Dark Albion setting, being a fantasy version of England, is no different!

(this is what they call one of the lovelier summer days)

Now, I know what you're thinking, a little rain never hurt anyone, right? True, but a lot of rain can be positively deadly for a medieval party on the road.

First though, let's figure out how often it rains, and where.
This is an important image to check out, although its contemporary and not medieval, but even if the numbers would be slightly off the general pattern would still be mostly correct:

Take note that some areas, specifically the mountainous areas, and the less populated regions, have heavier rainfall. There are two important things to note in this: first, it is not a coincidence that the area of heaviest population is also where there is less rain. Too much rain makes a place less livable.

Second, and important for Albion campaigning, the isolated wilderland places are the places that get the worst rainfall!

In the period where Dark Albion is set, Europe was at the start of a slow but steady cooling period that would end up having major climate effects on the population. One of the reasons for this was that with the cooling period came increased rainfall. The "little ice age" caused serious decrease in crop yields and increase in famine that kept Europe from being able to repopulate after the devastation of the Black Death, and there is ample historical/archaeological evidence of mass abandonment of villages in highland regions throughout the British Isles in this period. Entire communities ceased to exist because of this.

Now, we can't get specific information on medieval weather patterns at the level we're used to today, but this being an RPG and not a history lesson, we can wing it with an approximation. See the brown areas on the map above? Let's say that during the summer period there's a chance of 2/6 that on any given spring/summer day it'll be raining. If you wanted to be more precise you could maybe switch that to 4/10 in springtime, and 2/10 in summer or early autumn.

The non-brown areas would get rain on a 3/6 on any given day; or if you prefer, 5/10 in springtime, 3/10 in summer/autumn.

In either case, if you generate a rainy day, there's a subsequent chance of 4/6 that it's only a partially rainy day (it only rains lightly, for only a few hours); otherwise, it's heavy rain, that lasts throughout most of the day.

Why does all of this matter?

When it's raining, especially if it's been raining heavily, or over several days without ceasing to give time for things to dry, there are several problematic results for adventurers on the go. First, the dampness can affect equipment: under heavy rain, bowstrings (regular and crossbow) and other equipment can become unusable. Even arrows can be wrecked by rain as they absorb the damp and become heavier. Now, most bowstrings would be treated with beeswax to make them more resistant to rain, and quivers were made to be closed and sealed as waterproof as was possible at the time. But this does not completely prevent the harm, only mitigate it. When it's raining, bowstrings have to be removed, and arrows sealed up. This means that if the PCs don't do this for some reason, there's a very high chance (4/6?) that their missile weapons will be wrecked. Adventurers in this period should know about this, though, and if they were smart would take precautions; but this means that in the case of a random encounter, they won't have their missile weapons ready for action.

And of course, if your PCs are of the lucky rich sort to have firearms, this is at least as big a problem when it comes to gunpowder. If your powder gets damp, it won't fire. In seriously wet conditions, even if you've taken care to store your powder and pistol/rifle carefully, there's a 4/6 chance that a gun will simply fail to fire.

Even if you manage to get a shot off, be it with bow or with powder weapon, firing in the rain should cut your range by half. Note that visibility is seriously decreased in the rain as well, by one-third in light rain to one-half in heavy rain, so the range reduction becomes partly academic.

Are your PCs travelling with a cart to take all their extra equipment there, and all their loot back home? Remember that only the most significant of main roads had any kind of protection from rain; if they're going on most medieval roads, rainfall will muddy up the whole place, and reduce travel times by half as well. There'll be an additional 1/6 chance every hour of travel that the cart will get stuck in the mud and require strength checks to push/pull it out.

Horses are elegant creatures, but if its raining heavily they won't be able to go on most terrain at more than a walk; and if you try to charge with a horse at an enemy in the rain, some type of check will be required to avoid disaster.

Are the PCs traveling in the mountains? Rains can cause mudslides. Any time that its been raining for at least two days in a row, there's a 1/10 chance every day of heavy rain of getting caught in one while in mountainous areas. A saving throw is required to avoid getting knocked down by one and taking 3d6 points of damage (if you're on a horse, there could be additional damage from falling off).

Are the PCs heading to a river? Rains can cause rivers to flood. Any time there's been rainfall for more than five days in a row, or heavy rainfall for three days in the past week, there's a 4/6 chance that the river will have flooded, making crossing almost impossible (except perhaps at major bridges).

Can your PCs manage to get to a town? That will sure be good for their survival in the rain. If not, they're stuck trying to build a fire and shelter in pretty sub-optimal conditions.

Wilderness survival skills must be rolled, at a penalty depending on light or heavy rain, to successfully build a fire. If you can't do it, then even in the summer night, heavy rain can cause bitter and harmful cold.

Any time that a PC sleeps outside in rain (light or heavy) without some kind of shelter and the warmth of a fire, there's a 1/20 chance of becoming ill. This would be some type of flu, most likely, but remember that back then this was a pretty dangerous thing to get, without adequate rest and medical attention.
Saving throws should be rolled to recover, with penalties if the PC is not able to get rest (in a warm and DRY environment!) and bonuses if they are getting attended by a doctor. Failing would mean that the disease evolves into life-threatening pneumonia, which would leave the PC flat on their back for at least a week or two, and would require further saves to avoid decline of Constitution and possibly death.

Now of course, snow is as dangerous as rain, at least, and even colder. And in this period it certainly snows in Albion during the winter (with the cold getting worse as the campaign period progresses). But there's a simple reason why we focus on rain and not snow: you'd have to be INSANE to go traveling through wilderness in the winter. That's something to remember in your campaign in itself: PCs should spend the winter close to home, and not out adventuring; travel would only be short and in safe areas (safe being defined in this period not as actually safe, but as places where you could get from one village/castle to another in under a day of winter travel). If your PCs insist on going out adventuring in mid-winter, feel free to hit them with everything they deserve.


Currently Smoking: Raleigh Hawkbill + Image Perique

(originally posted January 19, 2016)