Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I Love Fantasy

It is by far my favorite genre for role-playing, one that I only rarely get tired of, and even then it's not long before I want to get back in the saddle. This is not to say that I don't love other genres, I do. Horror can be awesome, and I can even get into some super-hero stuff every now and then. Sci-fi is also great, and of course historical is my go to. But even then, my historical games tend to be history plus elements of fantasy. I just simply adore games with magic and monsters. I really don’t care if they are set on Athas or Middle-Earth, modern Chicago or Ancient Rome, give me some spell casters and some nasties, plus as many of the other trappings as you can fit in, and I am a happy gamer.
Its not just the trappings of the fantasy genre I love, it’s the themes, the supernatural, multiple intelligent species, a strong inspiration from mythology and folklore, and heroes defeating villains. There is a lot of overlap with other genres, and that is one of the things I love the most. Star Wars is fantasy, just set long, long ago with robots, spaceships, and aliens. It is the journey of the hero, complete with magic, evil that is outright evil, and not the run of the mill realistic evil either, and even swords! Fantasy is a very flexible genre, and includes hundreds if not thousands of sub-genres. Dresden Files is as much fantasy as Forgotten Realms, after all.
I really don’t care that much about what system gets used, I have tried so many fantasy systems that do the job nicely, especially with regards to a specific subgenre. Pendragon is a fine fantasy system for historical games set in the Arthurian mythos. I wouldn't want to use it for dungeon crawling classic fantasy, however. Not that it couldn't be adapted, it can and I have, but there are other systems that do it better. World of Darkness both new and old are not expressly fantasy games, though they certainly have many of the trappings and themes. Both of these systems can be readily adapted to a range of fantasy subgenres, some more than others (I am looking at you Werewolf and Mage). True, all the World of Darkness material can be used for other genres, most notably horror, but they also contain many fantasy elements, and its how you run the game that defines the genre, at least in this case, and not so much how the game is written.
My favorite systems for fantasy are the classics, Dungeons and Dragons and its successors. They all do the traditional fantasy well, though they vary in their performance regarding subgenres (D&D 4e more so than the earlier editions is the most laser focused on one subgenre). However, I also enjoy the freedom of generic systems to write by own subgenre, especially with GURPS and BRP. This is not to discount some of the rogue systems out there that do fantasy, and do it well. Barbarians of Lemuria is my go to for swords and sorcery style fantasy. Ars magica isn’t so much a system as a historical fantasy setting, and a good one at that. I wouldn't mind giving Legends of Anglerre a shot again, only do it differently this time and stick to a more structured setting and plot.
I recently picked up Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion and would love to run a fantasy campaign using that, but alas my gaming groups have solid campaigns going that my players and I enjoy, so there is no new campaign in sight. Well, honestly, its just a matter of time before I kill them all or one PC makes a glaring mistake that takes them all down.

Friday, March 18, 2011

NS-1 Vengeance of the Long Serpent Design Notes

When I set out to write this adventure I wanted something that dealt with themes from the Nordic Sagas and other works of the medieval Germanic peoples. However, I did not want to just do Pathfinder Beowulf or some such, but instead take these themes, mix them with history and the great tradition of fantasy role-playing, and see what happened. What developed was a blend of the Greenland sagas, the history of Norse exploration of the North America (which we will see more of in later parts of the Northlands Saga), and a heavy dose of inspiration from Lovecraft and Howard.
What we see in Vengeance is the PCs becoming involved in what should be a voyage of exploration aimed at garnering some wealth. In some ways they are caught up in this, as their new friend and patron, Halbjorn, may likely be more enthusiastic about the whole endeavor than they are. Once they reach the Far North, they discover that things are not as they thought they would be, and (hopefully) take part in the uprising against the Children of Althunak.
Two items in the adventure of which I am inordinately proud of are the Far North itself and Halbjorn's long monologue. In designing the Far North I wanted to provide not just a setting for the adventure, but a place that the characters can return to again and again in search of wealth, fame and glory. There are mammoths to hunt, areas to explore, and wealth to be garnered in that frigid land. Hallbjorn's monologue includes a large number of kennings; turns of phrase that are used to poetically describe an event, person, or place. I simply love kennings and writing so many of them into the dialogue was a great joy.
There is more that I can say about Vengeance, but that would probably give away too much of the adventure. I encourage anyone who plays fantasy or historical RPGs, and especially those who play Pathfinder or Swords and Wizardry to pick up a copy, in print or pdf (why not both) from Frog God Games. Next up in the series is NS-2 Beyond the Wailing Mountains, which continues the story started in Vengeance. I am currently working on NS-3 The Death Curse of Sven Oakenfist that promises to be a humdinger of an adventure involving the laws of hospitality, two dungeon crawls, and plenty of curses. Finally, if you enjoy the Northlands Saga, a short system-less campaign document, the Northlands Saga Campaign Setting is in production and will be available as a pdf in the near future.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Session Notes 2

This game was ran over two sessions using Savage Worlds wiht a group of six players. Mostly it was run as written, though a few flourishes were added here and there. The Hound of Shub-Niggurath was intended to be bullet proof, which worked nicely. Unfortunately for it, the Hound was not half-ton stone block proof. The actual mission was scrubbed a the last minute, sending our CASS team off to North Africa on an emergency. The session ended with the team in a crippled B-17 plunging towards southern France, a Me-109 chasing after them.

The Barbarossa

1. Downtime, 4 weeks
2. Mission Briefing
a. Secretary, case officer
b. This is an overt mission
i. This is the Barbarossa, Hitler's latest toy
1. It is a flying aircraft carrier
2. Capable of carrying 15 fighters and 8 bombers
3. Heavily armed and armored
4. Carries its own bomb payload
ii. You will be part of the operation that is going to destroy it before it is completed
iii. It is being constructed in Rostock on the Baltic Sea
iv. You are being sent to England for jump training
v. On March 1 you will embark from England on Carrier Task Force 19
vi. You and a company of US Rangers will be parachuted in at 3am on the night of March 10 on to the airfields near the shipyards
vii. Your primary objective is to secure the airfields and hold them against enemy counterattack
1. Once the airfields are secure you will send a coded message via radio "Excelsior"
2. This will signal bombers to unload on the shipyards
3. You and the Rangers will then board any aircraft that is usable and fly north to rendezvous with Carrier Task Force 19.
viii. Disposition of enemy forces
1. Rostock is not heavily garrisoned
2. Expect the Nazis to be largely third rate troops, old men and boys
3. Five companies of Wermacht regulars
4. 1 company of Panzers
5. The biggest threat is the possible presence of Dr. von Blud and his Ubermensch
6. Dossiers
7. The airfield is garrisoned by a company of the 134. Grenadiers, a reserve regiment.
ix. The Airfield
1. Your primary objective will be to destroy the planes located in the hangars out British friends have amusingly labeled the mount farm
2. After that, destroy the control tower, the fuels dump, and cause as many casualties amongst the pilots as you can. Taking them prisoner is also an option, but we will not be transporting prisoners out.
3. The technical site should be destroyed as well, and any research materials there should be recovered.
3. Interlude: Jump Training at Camp Barnam outside of London
a. Combat training with the rangers (5 xp bonus, must be spent on combat skills or edges, not powers)
i. Obstacle course, running, field craft training, etc…
b. Agility rolls for three training jumps, failure equals 2d12 damage and see below
4. Interlude: A traitor
a. Svetlana receives a mysterious message "meet me in Hyde Park on the 21st at 10pm by the rose garden."
b. Mysterious stranger standing under a lamp post, smoking a cigarette (Galushes)
i. Tan trench coat, black felt hat, hands and face wrapped in bandages
ii. Hands Svetlana an envelope
iii. Fades into the fog
5. Interlude: Hospital Number 9
a. Several of the Rangers injured when two planes collide during landing (after a training jump)
b. Those sent to hospital Number 9 fare well at first, but then go down hill
c. Mystery (PCs there may also be swept up) why do so many soldiers die at Hospital Number 9?
i. The Doctors and nurses are members of a secret vile cult that sacrifices blood and organs to Shub-Niggurath, the Goat with a Thousand Young
1. Altar in the woods near the hospital, pre-Celtic ruins
2. 15 cultists in total
3. Ritual sacrifices, scarification and orgies
4. Cult originated in France, came to England after the Fall of France
ii. Doctors:
1. Dr. Timothy Ville, British surgeon, young and affable
2. Dr. Henry Vouchard, French Surgeon, bitter and cantankerous
3. Dr. Llwylln Jones, Welsh surgeon, leader of the cult, distant and cruel
iii. Important Nurses:
1. Betty Greeves, Brisith head nurse, bitter and sarcastic
2. Suzzy Greenwood, American nurse young, pretty, and not entirely under the cult's influence
3. Emma Walthers, British nurse, young, pretty, and vindictive
iv. The Ritual
1. Timing, begin clock at 6:30 pm, ritual occurs at 8pm
2. A circle of nine celebrants are nude save for ornate goat's heads headdresses.
3. They surround the body of a young girl from the village, Maggie, who they have kidnapped.
4. Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young!
5. As the ritual completes, the chanting reaches a crescendo and Maggie unzips from neck to pubis, black light spills forth, strange vapors, and a tentacle emrges, the Dark Hound of Shub-Niggurath is born to rampage across the area.
6. Dark Hound of Shub-Niggurath
Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d8 (A), Spirit d10, Strength d12, Vigor d12
Skills: Fighting d10, Howl d8, Notice d8, Stealth d10,
Pace: 9 Parry: 7 Toughness: 12
Special Abilities:
• Cause Madness: The sight of the Hound causes all to make a Spirit roll or suffer temporary insanity.
• Size +2
• Discordant Howl: The howl is a flame template area of effect that causes those hit to roll Spirit vs. the Hound's Howl or be shaken, wounded on a raise
• Low Light Vision
• Fast Regeneration
• Fearless
• Armor (Hide)
6. The Mission
a. Agility to pick landing place, Success= off 1d6 random, Raise= dead on, Failure= off 2d6 random, Crit= drift into trees
b. Agility to land, Success= shaken, Raise= fine, Failure= wound, Crit= 2 wounds
c. Initial resistance is minimal
d. Counter attack before dawn by 2 panzers, 1 company of grenadiers, and the Ubermensch
e. Bombers late, but arrive
f. Safe flight back

Friday, March 4, 2011

Session Notes 1

I have been asked to share my RPG session notes and outlines, this is the first of many. The campaign this one was written for is a low-powerd super heroes game set during WWII. Savage Worlds, a great system, is the one used.

The Beast Men of the Boundary Waters

1. Assemble the PCs in Washington
a. CASS: the Combined Allied Strategic Services
i. Exists to pool and share gifted personnel resources
ii. Used for overt and covert actions
iii. Deployed to counter Axis gifted resources
b. The American branch (Office of Strategic Services)
i. Offices in the Munitions Building on the Mall in Washington
1. Main Offices in the third floor, overlooking the reflecting pool rooms 314-329
2. R&D is in the basement, room 005
ii. Room 326
1. Mrs. Harriett Hall, secretary
a. Attractive lady in her late twenties, very formal and standoffish
2. PCs case manager: Captain Everett Block
a. One eyed ex-marine officer, served in the Great War and in Panama
b. Gritty, down to earth
c. Happy New Year to all, I pray this one will be better than the last.
iii. Housed in a Brownstone
1. Rooms for all
2. Detached garage
3. Basement
4. Staff
a. Housekeeper: Mrs. Burton
i. Older widow, mother hen
b. Maid: Missy
i. Black woman, young and pretty
c. Cook: Sally
i. Middle aged black woman, Missy's mother and married to Henry
d. Driver, gardener, handyman: Henry
i. Middle aged black man
iv. Have access to regular and special resources
c. Meet with Everett Block
2. The Mission
a. Primary Objective: secure Dr. Gruber and his research
i. Dr. Gruber is a noted biologist and chemist
1. Hand out dossier.
ii. His current research has been funded by the defense department and is meant to create a serum that will enhance the combat abilities of the average soldier.
iii. Dr. Gruber is a native born American, but has strong ties to the American Bund.
iv. His research assistant, Eliza Drew, has expressed her concerns about the doctor's political activities to the FBI.
1. Hand out dossier.
v. Dr. Gruber works at his private laboratory in the Boundary Waters region of Minnesota.
vi. You will travel to Chicago, Illinois and contact Deputy Director Melvin Purvis of the FBI.
b. Secondary Objective: prevent the Nazis from obtaining Dr. Gruber's research
i. Miss Drew has obtained information that suggests that Dr. Gruber is scheduled to meet with German Major Heinrich Strasser in St. Paul, Minnesota on the 5th of this month.
1. Hand Out Dossier
ii. Major Strasser was spotted in Montreal on December 23rd by Canadian operatives. They pursued, and three were killed.
iii. It is believed that Major Strasser has at least four SS agents with him, if not more.
c. Tertiary Objective: Maintain covert operation
i. The nature of Dr. Gruber's research must be kept top secret.
ii. Do not display your abilities or identities to civilians.
iii. Limit exposure of your abilities and identities to military personnel.
iv. The FBI is well briefed on your identities, abilities, and operations, consider them full partners and entirely read in to the OSS and CASS.
d. Resources
i. Due to the time critical nature of this operation, you are being provided with first class air tickets to Chicago, and from Chicago to St. Paul.
ii. The FBI can make additional resources, such as cars and other forms of transportation, available to you as needed.
iii. Hotel reservations have been made in the names of your cover identities.
iv. Each of you will be issued a sidearm, as needed.
v. Additionally, we have available for this mission the following weapons:
1. 2x Thompson Submachine guns
2. A BAR
3. 3x 12-guage pump action shotguns
4. 4x MK1 Hand Grenades
5. 6x bullet proof vests
6. An experimental restraint system (tangler shotgun shells)
vi. Good hunting!
3. The Journey
a. Interlude Table
b. Draw a card; hold onto it until the segment of the adventure called for is reached. If you play it, you get a bennie.
Card Result
2 (Boundary Waters or St. Paul) Trouble: Ambush by Nazi Agents
3-4 (Before Chicago) Obstacle: The plane loses a propeller, forcing it to make an emergency landing. At least a day, if not more, is lost.
5-6 (In Chicago) Injury: Caught in a bank robbery.
7-8 Trial: The cold and wet of the Boundary Waters gets to you, suffer a fatigue level on the day before getting to Dr. Gruber's laboratory.
9-10 (Boundary Waters) Wonder: Along the way you see the beautiful Bear Lake.
Jack (Anytime) Anecdote: Something amusing happens to your character.
Queen (Anytime) Memento: Something reminds you of a short story about your character's past.
King (Chicago) Clue: A mysterious lady in a blue dress gives you a clue to solving the mystery.
Ace (Boundary Waters) Treasure: While making camp, you come across a buried suitcase wrapped in oiled canvas. The suitcase contains $3000 and has the letters JD monogrammed on it.
Joker (Anytime) Luck of the Heroes: You get an extra bennie, describe why you are lucky this mission.

4. In Chicago
a. The PCs met with Deputy Director Purvis
i. The FBI does not have a clue as to where Strasser is.
ii. They know where Dr. Gruber's lab is in the Boundary Waters, and have Miss Drew in protective custody; the PCs can go talk to her.
iii. Arrangements have been made with the St. Paul office to supply canoes and other equipment.
b. At the safe house (a run down tenement on the south side)
i. The agents in stationed in a car out front are dead, a close range bullet wound in their head.
ii. In the single room apartment, there are three dead agents, a dead man of unknown origin, bullet holes, casings (.45 and 9mm), and no Miss Drew. The smell of cordite hangs in the air. From the alley below a car door slams and tires squeal.
iii. Three cars
iv. The lead has Strasser, two Nazi thugs, and Miss Drew.
v. #2 has four Nazi thugs
vi. #3 has three Nazi thugs and a Wolfen SS trooper.
c. The chase will lead from the Southside through the slums and out into the country. Police help is possible, but inadequate.
5. The Meeting in St. Paul
a. Gruber and Strasser are scheduled to meet at noon in the Blue Moon Café, downtown.
b. If Strasser gets away with the Miss Drew, then no one shows up.
c. If Strasser is stopped, only Gruber shows up.
i. Strasser is hoping to snatch Grubber at the meet, and dispose of the heroes
ii. He will have whatever troops he had before, plus eight Bund thugs armed with improvised melee weapons and pistols
iii. Gruber brings along two disguised beastmen goons
6. The Boundary Waters
a. Gruber's lab is thirty miles into the Boundary Waters on a small island in the middle of Seagull Lake
b. It is winter, the water is frozen solid and the travel will be difficult (Vigor check or 1 level of fatigue)
c. Bear attack
7. Dr. Gruber's Laboratory
a. The island is small, only three hundred by two hundred yards and heavily wooded with conifers and scattered deciduous trees.
b. The island is guarded by four beastmen armed with double barreled shotguns
c. If Strasser is available, he will be here with any troops he has left.
d. Strasser and Gruber are in the lab, Strasser's men are packing to leave.
e. The lab is a small wooden cabin (see map)
f. Strasser will send his men to fight, hoping to escape with Gruber, or at least Gruber's notes, on his armored aerosan.