Stuffed Crocodile

Mazes, Martians, Mead

30. International Festival of Comics and Games in Lodz

fk-baner-enI guess I should write something about it here, just to document I was there.

Because we went there on the last weekend of September. And with we, I mean me, my wife, and our two kids. So that was an adventure.

Last time we were there was just before the birth of our older son, so he technically was there before. The difference was that now he could see what was happening around him. He seemed to like it. He told me he wanted to come back next year.

I was less impressed. They moved the venue from Atlas Arena to the International Conference center, and I am not sure if that didn’t cut down on the room that was available for people and shops. On the other hand it was about as crowded as before, so that didn’t seem to change. There also seemed to be a lack of actually interesting content there. Maybe it was because I was just too jaded, but I found it amusing that after desperately looking for something to spend money on I left having bought a cup of beer, a few snacks, and some Pad Thai, while my nominally non-comic reading wife left with two bags full of loot (half of which were books for our kids, but she did buy The Death of Stalin and some other hardcover about a French revolutionary).

I think the main issue was that I didn’t like the crowd. As in, the sheer amount of people. I didn’t feel like I could properly browse, first carrying my son, and afterwards on my own, and to be fair, the offers they had were kind of meagre as well. What I didn’t see much off where 2nd hand sellers with interesting offers. Even the ones that were there sold most interesting books at prices that were like new.

The boardgame stuff was just there, but not very large. There were a few stands with roleplaying stuff, but that too was overpriced and not in my ballpark. I briefly was thinking of finally buying the 5e books and then shrugged, yet again. Somehow I don’t have the will to get into this system. In hindsight I think I should have bought a few miniatures, but I had to carry around my son and he didn’t want to stare at this boring stuff with me.

I guess I am getting old. I remember the times when I just was visiting Lodz and the Festival was still in the Dom Kultury. There seemed so much interesting stuff there back then. This one felt kind of boring.

I think it might be a problem with what this con really was though. It started as a way for geeks from this city to meet and do something interesting, but by now geek has gone mainstream. It tries to be a con for comics, and games, and anything remotely geeky, but that just means there’s not much space to focus on specifics.

Interesting things to note:

  • they got some brewery to make specific festival beer. A rather nice APA, although I was terribly thirsty at that point and most likely would have drunk anything that looked drinkable.
  • there was at least one vendor that sold Famicom cartridges. Not even NES, but actually Famicom. There also were multiple stands that sold basically nothing but Japanese snacks. I remember them from last time as well, so they seem to make money peddling mochi.
  • there’s a Call of Cthulhu Con (CarcosaCon) in English, taking place in Poland. I was briefly thinking of maybe attending when I found the leaflet, but then realized that I might not be the target audience. The whole thing looked a bit too expensive and too produced for me. They even offered an airport shuttle from Berlin airport.
  • we parked just across the street, at Sukcesja. Sukcesja is the most stupid mall there is in this town, a completely misplaced and half-dead shopping area that tries to ape the look of the much more sensible Manufaktura. We again got struck how badly designed this place really is. When we tried to leave the building with the pram we had to get through the night exit in the back, because there was no other way to get out of the building with a pram. When we tried to get back later it turned out this exit only opened to the outside, and to even get to the elevators we had to manually carry the pram up two flights of stairs at the main entrance. Because all the escalators, even those clearly made for wheelchair use, had signs banning prams. I hate this place.

[Labyrinth Lord] Æthereal Marauder

Ethereal_marauderI recently reread the 3.0 Monster Manual entry for the Ethereal Marauder (and afterwards this post by The Alexandrian) and realized that I really like the idea behind this monster.

I don’t think I ever gave this beast a second thought before, but lately I have been thinking about the Ethereal Plane and ways to use it, and all of a sudden a whole adventure fell into place here.

Imagine… A city, or a large castle, with long narrow hallways or walkways. And all of a sudden people start disappearing. There are horrifying sounds and weird noises at night, blood spatters, but no body left. Something is not right here.

It turns out there is an Æthereal Marauder on the prowl….

(written with an Æ because if you have the chance to use it, why wouldn’t you?)

That’s an amazing idea, a truly frightening monster, especially at low levels. Imagine trying to hunt for whatever you think might be killing people, when all of a sudden something like a three-pronged velociraptor shifts shifts into view and is charging at you. Then, after biting off an arm or something it just disappears into the night and is gone.

You also could do some nice stuff with the properties of the Ethereal Plane, if you wanted to. Maybe the thing is hanging out in the Ethereal Shadow of a building that was destroyed weeks, or maybe years ago. How to even reach it if it hangs out on top of a tower that isn’t there anymore?

Æthereal Marauder
No. Enc.: 1 (1d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120′ (40′)
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d6+3
Save: F3
Morale: 6
Hoard Class: None

These reptiloid creatures live and hunt on the Ethereal Plane. They generally are colored in blue to violet hues, are about 4 feet tall. While clearly intelligent in their tactics they speak no known language and do not seem to have a discernible culture. Survivors of their attacks report hearing an eerie, high whine before being attacked.
Marauders have the ability to shift between Ethereal and Material Planes at will, but will take 1 round to do so. Their usual method of hunting is to lurk in the Ethereal Plane until appropriate prey shows itself, then quickly shift to the material plane to attack their victim there flat-footed, then to retreat back to the Ethereal Plane. They have darkvision and prefer to hunt at night.

 

What if this is actually just a class of beings? The three-pronged ones are just those that were seen by survivors. I bet the depths of the deep Ethereal could hold dozens of variations of this monster.

d10 Variations on the Æthereal Marauder

  1. it’s the three-pronged velociraptor
  2. it looks like the lichen covered skeleton of a triceratops man
  3. it looks like a clown, but with a vertical mouth that goes all the way down the stomach
  4. it’s a gestalt being made up of silver butterflies with razorsharp wings
  5. it looks like a human statue, but only parts of it will appear in the Material Plane
  6. it looks vaguely humanoid but has no face and elongated limbs
  7. an ogre-sized goblin
  8. a writhing mass of teethed tentacles
  9. a jet-black figure that eyes won’t focus on
  10. a neon-green praying mantis

[Labyrinth Lord] Campaign on the Borderlands – Session 1

B2ModuleCoverLately I played the first session of what hopefully will be more in a new Labyrinth Lord game. The players were all from work, although I don’t think I talked to them before we got together. Someone asked for a GM for a Polish language RPG on our company-internal board game list, and I followed that up with the question if somebody wanted to play in English. In the end instead of a Polish language game it ended up an English language one with me as the GM. That was a bit odd.

We decided to go for D&D like fantasy, and so I decided to dust off my Labyrinth Lord materials. I recently had been working more on my private set of house rules, but that one was far from ready, and Labyrinth Lord has free versions available after all.

As most of the people were beginners I decided to go very, very basic: we are currently playing B2 Keep on the Borderlands in the World of Greyhawk. I decided to add some stuff from various places to B2 (including the map of the Castellan’s Keep from Dyson), and after trying and failing to situate the Keep in the Yeomanry like Return to the Keep of Borderlands proposes (who the hell put that location in there, it doesn’t make any sense!), it now is set right next to it, just at the border to the Hool Marshes and the Dreadwood. Anna B. Meyer located the Viscounty of Eor from I2 there, and I actually like it. in my campaign it’s a half-forgotten part of Keoland barely kept alive by the trade routes to the Yeomanry and the Hold of the Sea Princes.

Campaign Date: 11th of Goodmonth, 576 C.Y.

The situation: 

Kendall Keep is situated in the Viscounty of Eor, south of the Dreadwood, and West of the Hool Marshes. The Kingdom of Keoland would have given up on these lands centuries ago already, but for the trade with the lands of the Yeomanry, and the Hold of the Sea Princes in the South. It is far from the heartland of the kingdom, in what can only be described as Borderlands, an old and slightly dilapidated fortress that still looks rather impressive. Lately reports have indicated that this is a place where fame and fortune can be found. 

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Overheard in the Dungeon

The group was hunting for bounties on Goblins. The gnome ranger scouts a bit too far ahead and manages to find himself behind a group of humanoid guards. The rest of the group comes to his rescue, and a battle ensues. The half-orc assassin tries to use her language skills to make them surrender.

After about two rounds of battle the following dialogue ensued:

Fighter: “Wait, she’s speaking orcish to them.

Ranger: “Yeah, she’s a half-orc, we established that in the tavern.”

Fighter: “No, what I mean is that if she’s speaking orcish, then these aren’t goblins.”

Ranger: “Damn, that means we aren’t getting paid for these.”

Druid: “He Dwarf, stop attacking, those aren’t goblins!”

Cleric (mid attack): “I. DON’T. CARE!”

Souvenirs

JB from B/X Blackrazor lately has been mulling about certifications for DMs.

I thought this was cute. He found an old article in Dragon magazine that allowed you to calculate your level as a player and/or DM. Not your character level, but your level as the person playing the game.

Then he went into why it might be a good idea to have something like this to show how experienced and how good you are as a DM. I think he missed the mark a bit here. He went into how you would have to measure all these things, how and who could certify you, and so on. And I was thinking that was missing the mark a bit, why not just use some smaller certificates as a baseline. Have players and DM do an online test that gives you a printable pdf in the end, certifying that you passed the test on, let’s say, basic or advanced rules knowledge. The certificate would be utterly meaningless outside of this part of the hobby, but it would be a marker if you had put the work into understanding the topic or not.

I might be a bit biased there. At work we have an e-learning portal that works like this. Most of the certificates I get from it are not worth to be printed, but every single course will get me a certificate. Maybe a fifth of those are really something I could ever show someone else, but I technically have a sort of diploma for passing a course on Conflict Management. Which was a 90 minute electronic presentation and a 5 minute test, and which in the end resulted in a checkmark towards my promotion.

But anyway, I was just thinking, why not do something like that? Nothing fancy, a small test and you can tell people that yes, you know the absolute basics of a system.

Or someone does a small seminar on world-building or a specific GM-style and hands out some meaningless certificate afterwards.

But all this would just be cruft, just something to show to other gamers, because nobody else would be interested in the fact that you had a seminar in… I don’t know… Orcish Power Politics. Although it might be cool to show off, and if there’s one thing that we as roleplayers like it’s showing off our big in-game feats, isn’t it?

And then I was thinking: wait a second, why don’t we actually do get something when we finish a campaign or an adventure?

Even when not going into the whole mess that would be trying to certify a free-wheeling hobby as ours, why don’t we actually give out at least a token of appreciation when finishing an adventure, or even a campaign? We just spent how much time with each other? We put how much work into this whole thing?

Why is it not more common to hand out at least a souvenir thing in the end?

Oh I know, how many campaign ever really end? But lets say we go with really big/famous adventures? Why not play through Castle Ravenloft or something, and in the end you don’t only get experience points, but also a shiny document that player X played character Y in scenario Z and survived/died (strike as needed)?

We could fancy it up a bit and if we find it impressive enough hang it on the walls of our game rooms/man caves.

Or we could go the actual token path and hand out, well, tokens or medals, when people reach certain levels in a campaign or on an open table. Ah no, that might involve too much of an investment.

I guess one could come up with a lot of ideas here.

Where to go from here

So… it happened. The good times of having my players in the same city came to an end. One of my players just moved to another city in another country. It’s hardly out of the world, and I assume that she might come back every once in a while to visit family, but getting a game together became even harder.

Not that we really played that many games the last few years, and when we did it often ended up being board games as they did not demand that kind of time investment.

And even then we just got a second kid, and the first one is already giving me more and more grey hairs, and it was hardly easy to play a game with him around. (we totally botched the first case in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective because he kept interrupting and we went in circles because part of us missed some clues).

Still. We had a group going there, and now that is not as easy anymore.

We still are talking about trying though. Just to keep playing online. Right now it doesn’t even look so bad, if we get a game going online we might even get a second DM. But that depends on if we actually manage to get a game going.

Right now we are thinking of an online game. Play via voice chat. I did that before, but that was over Google Hangouts in the good old days of Google Plus when everybody played there. Right now I am thinking about Discord, which is supposed to be good for online games, but I haven’t checked it out properly yet. I managed to set up a private server for our group, but considering that nobody else had the time and energy to check that out and we didn’t have a game planned anyway that was a bit overkill.

Let’s see.

 

 

Thinking about an RPG for my kids

My son is two and a half. There’s some time until I can introduce him to roleplaying games. Right now he’s into puzzles, tractors, and fire engines. I think if I was introducing RPGs to him any time soon he’d be more interested in putting out fires,  moving hay balls with a tractor, and dragging cars out of holes. That’s what his current plays are like right now.

It’s quite fascinating to see really. We were perfectly prepared to accept even girlish interests from his side, but from a very early time on he was all about wheels and big machines. His favorite place to go to after nursery is the train station. His grand dad is absolutely awesome because he owns a tractor. And so on.

So… I won’t be playing RPGs with him any time soon. Even video games are not his bag yet, although I did have some success with having him play the opening stage of Ecco the Dolphin. You know, the part where you swim in the ocean, look at fish, jump out of the water with your friends, before aliens come and kidnap your pod and you have to rescue them.

Ecco is kind of a weird game.

In any case, I don’t have a regular game, and it’s some time until I can play with my kids, so of course I am thinking how to introduce stuff to them.

And of course I am thinking old school D&D. Maybe with a board and a dungeon. Maybe with Legos. Maybe with other minis.

I was actually thinking about doing it like a boardgame first. There are a few board games that do the dungeon exploration game quite nice (I own both Hero Quest and Descent), but I was considering doing this as a game on a hexmap. Something along the lines of Talisman or Barbarian Prince. This is for kids after all.

Think about it like this: the players get a map of an area on a hexmap, they have some starting point, and they get miniatures to play with, and they get some very basic quest in the beginning, and then they get going. Depending on the size of the hexes they get a certain amount of movement points per day, they can move that many hexes, and every hex has a base chance for an encounter. Ideally I would have some key encounter areas figured out before, and even if not, I would have encounter tables.

This is all not too different from actual D&D, the rules would have to be pared down a bit, options would have to be cut, and allowances would have to be given for creativity from the players. He doesn’t have the cultural references that the rest of the world has yet. He doesn’t know what elves and dwarves are. So one would have to think about that.

It might be a nice little game.

Review: F8tes – Fantasy of Eight System Primary Rulebook

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Adam D’Amato-Neff

Writers Club Press 2002

 

I had a gift card!

I had to use the money somehow!

And this one was cheap!

Don’t look at me like that!

Also I bought this 5 years ago and I meant to post this review for just as long.

The Fantasy of Eight Roleplaying Game, or F8te if you want to confuse people who heard about Fate system before, is pretty much a pure fantasy heartbreaker. It mostly seems to serve as a ginormous ego trip for the author.

Frankly I doubt that it was supposed to be bought by anybody but the author and his players, but then a guy in Poland decided to spend the last bit of money on his gift card for something RPG-related. So now I can talk about it online.

According to the back cover

This is the F8S (FATES) role playing game designed by the author of the Pleides Series (Za’Varuk’s Stone), The Moonweaver Memoirs, and Pleidian Tales. It has all the information needed to begin play, including 20 character classes, a huge list of monsters and races, and example characters.

The book is thin (100pgs.), and over a fifth of it is pre-generated characters.

Which the author found necessary to include.

A further big part of the book is tables upon tables of monster stats. The approach to their stats is a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand Nymphs are split into a table with 3 entries of Nymphs of various powers. Elementals just have 3 entries as well, and aren’t even split up into different elemental classes. On the other hand there are the tables for ogres, where one can find a whopping 75 entries, diligently listing the stats for ogre axemen, priests, and necromancers up to level 25.

I kind of see what the author was going for, but I think he missed the mark somewhat.

The actual rules to play the game are surprisingly short. In fact they make up most of pages 1 to 32 of the book, and in between you find another few pages with characters from one of the author’s stories.

The rules are definitely inspired by D&D, and try to mostly improve on the model set by that game. It allows and encourages mixing and matching of classes to create just the hero one wants for a game. And it boasts 20 classes and 15 races for that. Of course in the limited amount of space it has, the difference between a Warrior, a Karateka, and a Barbarian is explained in a single paragraph, with maybe a sentence for each.

Alignment is still present, but instead of the classic model we now have Caliginous, Neutral, and Luminance. What either of these means is not explained and can only be inferred through some comments in the section on races.

Equipment is limited to a page of weapon descriptions, and a short paragraph on treasure. Interspersed between those two is the section on attacking enemies, and this is followed by the section on religion, which just tells us that the number of gods in the campaign world would be too big to list, so it lists a few of the bigger gods (including Thor, Demeter, and Orcus).

The section on attacking by the way does not contain any further explanations than the terse rules mechanics. Further explanations are provided, in two more sections a few pages further, one called “Basics for the game, Taken from the short story Nightmares Born of Bliss”, the other simply “Tomb Adventure”. Interestingly enough the second part decides to reiterate the rules on attack darts for clarity, despite the fact that these rules are at the bottom of the same page and were not mentioned beforehand.

“Tomb Adventure” also seems to be what goes for a sample scenario in this game. It is nearly 2 pages long, half of which is explanation how combat works, the rest of which is a description of a tomb in text form:

Stairs lead downt.

Landing has a hallway leading off.

Thief must make check to notice trap door in the floor.

And after “Tomb Adventure” we have the three paragraphs [!] on Attack Darts, creating Undead, and Character Death.

The book also contains one dedication, one epigraph quoting Shakespeare, a list of abbreviations, 2 pages of introduction, an afterword that promises a forth coming expansion to the tomb adventure presented in the book, a bio of the author with his msn.com email address, 4 pages of advertisement for at this point not-yet published fiction and non-fiction by the author.

Oh, and then a section headed “Bibliography” that reads

A thanks to the mythmakers of old, for without them this book would not be what it has become!

Uhm. I don’t think this word means what you think it means.

OK, this book is charming in its way. A wonderful example of DIY rpg stuff of the early 2000s. I bet the author and his players had lots of fun in their campaign. So that was good for them. I love to see this stuff sometimes.

I also love some of the design ideas here. The whole system is pared down and streamlined to allow for a quick and eventful game. E.g. it acknowledges that people will use spell components, but when playing the game this should just be ignored. It also is intended to allow a maximum of character customization… but forgets that D&D is not the only game there is and that other games might have better ways to do that. And you can still see the traces of D&D in there anyway.,

But the bad points are overwhelming: there’s no structure, no real sense of place (the author assumes you have read his novels, not all of which might have been published), and the game is barely understandable. There are barely any explanations as to how rules actually work, and lots of far-reaching assumptions on how things are supposed to go in a game.

TLDR: As a game it is basically unplayable, mired in barely understood D&Disms, structured like a Jackson Pollock painting, and completely full of itself. It’s a fantasy heartbreaker.

 

Review: Venârivè: Northwestern Lýthia

venarive_cover_2By Jeremy Baker and N. Robin Crossby

Kelestia Productions 2007
PDF 35$ (250 pages, large scale map, etc)

Venârivè is the larger region Harn is situated in. Previously the setting description of HarnWorld focussed mostly on the island Harn itself, and a few areas in the general vicinity. This publication changes that and pushes the known world up to the borders of the cultural region Venârivè. Some of these places were already mentioned in the Lythia article in HarnWorld, a lot of others are mentioned here for the first time.
That includes the name of the publication. The copy of HarnWorld I own just mentions the continent of Lythia, and doesn’t have a specific name for the subcontinent.

But at least Venârivè sounds like a real name.

Venârivè is the region between and around the Ivinian and the Venarian seas, and defined more by cultural coherence than geographically*. This region has been settled for a few thousands of years, and there are traces of older, most likely alien civilizations (the Earthmasters).

The predominant race in this area of the world are humans (oh, really?), splintered in thousands of smaller tribes and nations. There are some other, older races (Elves and Dwarves) that have been in decline for a long time. They used to influence human civilization, but now only a few scattered realms in remote locations remain. There also are a few other non-human races, often scatted and marginalized. The largest group here are the Gargun of Harn (the Harnic orcs), which are an economical and ecological disaster just waiting to happen.
Most of Venârivè is wilderness, with few pockets of civilization huddled around larger villages and towns, and sometimes even actual cities. Many states only effectively control the immediate area around their towns, and maybe a few strategic highways (read: wilderness trails) to other civilized areas.
The religion of the region is diverse, but the region is locked in the protracted struggle between the cults of two different war gods: the protective Larani/Varani (a goddess of chivalry), and the aggressive Agrik (with a might-is-right philosophy). The conflict between these two philosophies informs a large part of the religious and political conflicts in the setting, although other religions have their own issues.
The technology of the setting is somewhere between 10th and 15th century (so basically standard fantasy fare), with some areas more developed than others. Most of civilized Venarive is very much in the feudal, manorial mode of living. So there is not too much change for seasoned Harniacs.

Nations and states, tribes and cultural regions are described in loving detail, even if most likely no-one ever will play in these parts. There are lists of rulers, historical personages, ports, and so on.

As always with Harn products this book describes this setting at one specific point in time (the year 720 of the Tuzyn calendar), so there is no metaplot to go against, besides what is described in the book itself.

The setting veers away from the usual RPG everything-but-the-kitchen-sink setting that has become the standard over time; the setting does not go out of its way to fit one genre or another into it; the authors clearly went for internal coherence rather than actual playability. I do not really see many people wanting to play a power struggle in Quarphor (Scythia?), or courtly intrigues in Dalkesh (quasi-medieval Egypt?). Some people, yes, but not many.

This book is both one of the best RPG supplements I have come across so far, as well as one of the most frustrating. I absolutely love looking at this book. I enjoy the worldbuilding, the additional detail, the insane amount of information I can get out of it, but the setting doesn’t make it easy to put it into a game.

But maybe I should just come to grips with the fact that I did not buy this book to use it. I bought it because I enjoy reading about a well-crafted world.

Summary:

  • Venarive is a highly detailed and coherent RPG setting intended for simulationist low-magic campaigns
  • It is an extension of the classic HarnWorld setting
  • The book is rules-agnostic (a few non-essential references link it to HarnMaster Gold)
  • it might be way over the top for anyone who prefers settings to be more readily accessible

——

* if Venarive was Europe it would include not only mainland Europe but also large parts of the middle East and the parts of North Africa directly influenced by it, as well as large swathes of Asia

D&D illegal in California

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Banned in California (image credit: Wikipedia)

Now here’s something interesting: California has banned RPGs. At least the ones that use polyhedrals other than d6s. Or rather, it seems to have banned the possession of respective RPG paraphernalia.

According to this site it is “Illegal to possess any dice with more than 6 faces” in the state of California.

I wonder if D&D games often get raided in that part of the world.

 

[the answer is no by the way; this was a joke]