Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Back in the saddle...?

Back in the saddle...?
A fortnight since my last post and regular readers might be wondering what's up. I'd say I'm sorry not to have posted for so long, but I can't really. That is to say: I am sorry that this blog has lain fallow for so long, but it's not something I would want to apologise for. My reason for this is simply that I'm ill. Reading this, you might be asking yourself what kind of illness could prevent me from posting a short article to a blog now and then. So I might as well tell you.

I suffer from bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. This means that for some 20 years or so I have been subject to an annual cycle of mood-swings, flipping between highs and lows lasting several months at a time. There is no prospect of remission for me, and I require daily medication to stay well enough to avoid long-term hospitalisation.This medication doesn't cure me, it just limits the intensity of the mood swings.

And so it is that, towards the end of October, I slumped into my depressive down-swing. One result of this was that I was unable to maintain my blog (another was that I was unfit to GM last Sunday). As my bloglag lengthened I found myself confronting the unspoken question 'Where have you been?' when I was to resume posting. The idea of handwaving this away was deeply painful to me. This is no abstraction or metaphor: the mentally ill endure not only the suffering of our affliction; we also bear the burden of stigma. Internalising this stigma because of fear- eg. by hiding the cause of my long bloglag- actually contributes to our suffering. Long experience has taught me that the best way to deal with this is to be up front about my illness, to save everyone as much bother as possible.

And that is why I've gone into so much detail about such a deeply personal matter. I'm not trying to turn this blog into a confessional for my sufferings. Rather, it's that the alternative- ie. passing over the matter in silence- could well have turned my bloglag into a blogging black hole.

Incidentally, manic depression is something that is handled very badly in rpg's, if it features at all. I remember once seeing a rule for a manic depressive disadvantage which involved rolling for mood swings whenever the afflicted character was in a stressful situation. Roleplaying being what it is, this would be combat more often than not. The results would've been something like this: roll a downswing, and you can't be bothered defending yourself, even against puny kobolds; roll an upswing, and you're invulnerable- you'll attack anything, especially the army of the Invincible Overlord, from which the rest of the party are beating a stealthy 'tactical' retreat. What a crock!

One noteworthy exception to this is Call of Cthulhu. The core rulebook has very credible capsule descriptions of the condition. Also, some well-meaning waffle in the insanity rules aside, the rules enjoy the merit that they don't reduce everything to some kind of willpower rolls to avoid instantaneous mood swings. In fact Chaosium have worked so hard on their account of insanity- which is, after all, the defining feature of the game- that Unseen Masters won the '2001 Mary Seeman Award in the area of Psychiatry and Humanities for the background given on mental health and addiction', awarded by the University of Toronto School of Psychiatry. Pretty good going for a rpg scenario pack I'd say.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

My little Old World: From Delberz to Altdorf #2

Turning the tables
The Ventura set off on time the following morning. Adelbert, the master of the Ventura, explained that the journey to Altdorf would take 2 days, because they would be travelling without tying up for the night, in the hope of avoiding outlaws. This hope was to be unfulfilled.

Early the following afternoon, Adelbert's mate- Wolmar- came and told the PC's to hide themselves at the stern of the barge. He explained that a rowboat was approaching and that Adelbert was worried that it would prove to be a pirate attack. When the PC's questioned the wisdom of their hiding, Wolmar told them that Adelbert was banking on the power of surprise. The PC's saw the sense in this, so they secreted themselves around the stern.

A longboat crewed by 4 men approached the stern of the Ventura. In the prow stood a man who identified himself as a river exciseman, duty bound to inspect the barge's cargo. Adelbert assented, and the longboat drew closer. The master of the Ventura told the hidden PC's that this was an old trick. Our heroes began to cackle gleefully as they considered the prospect of themselves getting the drop on some outlaws for a change.

Throw me a line called the exciseman. Sure thing replied Adelbert, crouching down to hide the club in his right hand as he threw down a rope with his left. Just then the man in the prow of the longboat pulled out a crossbow pistol and fired at Adelbert. Fortunately for the master of the Ventura, the bolt missed. Simultaneously, the forward oarsman put up his oars and readied a grappling hook.

The surprise was to be all on the part of the pirates though, when 5 people leapt up in the stern of the river barge, and a hail of extravagant curses, arrows and crossbow bolts rained down upon them. The pirate leader in the prow soon fell into the river with an arrow sticking right through his elbow. At this point, the pirate readying his grappling hook for yet another throw dropped it and grabbed for his oars.

Everything might've ended there had it not been for Seigfried. His blood up, the young thief was unwilling to see such a valuable longboat disappear. He took out his own grappling line, and prepared to throw. What are you doing?! came the chorus from around him. Undaunted by his companions' incredulity, Siegfreid swung his line, and snagged the longboat with a single throw.

The pirates' own would-be grappler promptly pulled out a dagger and tried to part the line. His fellow oarsman pulled hard to widen the gap between the barge and the longboat. The man at the tiller grabbed a crossbow and opened fire, hitting Alane in the chest with a bolt. Meanwhile, realising the booty that could be theirs, the other PC's went to Seigfried's aid with a will.

Mordrin tried to help Siegfried to pull the longboat in, only to find that the young human had dropped his end of the rope, so that the young dwarf's strength was insufficient to keep his grip. Berthold meanwhile had grabbed Siegfreid's shortbow, and opened fire on the pirate trying to free the longboat from the grappling line. By this time, Siegfried had picked up the end of his line and was able to tie it up, so that Mordrin felt the rope pull taut as it slipped through his hands.

Faced with the increasingly desperate attempts of his companion to part the rope now dragging them along behind the barge, and seeing a bow, a crossbow, and a blunderbuss arrayed before them, the pirate at the tiller of the longboat shouted to his mates that this wasn't going to be their day. He promptly jumped into the river, to be followed by the other 2 pirates.

Adelbert was delighted at this outcome, and hooted and hollered as the pirates swam away. He was so pleased at having kept his life, and his cargo, that he was quite happy to allow the PC's to keep the longboat for themselves, asking only for fair shares of the other booty. The party was happy to agree to this.

The rest of the voyage passed without incident, and the Ventura arrived in Altdorf just before dawn the next day. The greatest city of the Empire stood before them.


The GM's lament
So, that was Sunday's session of my WFRP campaign. Andy, Antony and I were talking about later in the pub, and I had to confess to them: I was having problems with the campaign. We quickly formed the consensus that the game had lost a bit of focus. And no wonder: I'd got them all to Middenheim, where I dropped them into volume 1 of a 3-volume epic campaign. Part 1 of volume 1 completed, what did I do? I promptly diverted them in pursuit of a plotline of my own devising, part 1 of which entailed a journey all the way back to where they'd started...

What on earth was I thinking of? Sheesh.

Ah well, as Andy said on Sunday night: I'm stuck with it now, and I'll just have to get this bit of the campaign sorted out, and see where that takes us. It's just, well, it's just that I feel such an idiot! ;)

From Delberz to Altdorf
- #1 Strangers in town
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim

Monday, November 14, 2005

My little Old World: From Delberz to Altdorf #1

Strangers in town
Finding safe haven in ‘Wat's on the Wharf’ in Delberz, the PC's paid over the odds for their bed and board. Awakening the following morning they were easily able to book passage on the Ventura, a river barge leaving for Altdorf the following day. Fortunately for our heroes, they were able to gain this at a significant discount. Unfortunately for our heroes, this was gained by hiring out their services as guards, which was not good news for 3 PC's who were so badly wounded that they would have reason to fear attack by toddlers armed with butter knives.

All was not lost however: Delberz being a major town, the party had no difficulty in finding a temple of the goddess Shallya. There they met the priestess Ellinde, who was tolerably friendly without being terribly forthcoming. The PC's explained their needs, and were invited to join a service to Shallya that was just about to begin.

The party's bedraggled and bloodstained appearance- not to mention the strange sight of an elf in the company of 2 dwarfs- drew some strange looks from the assembled congregation. The congregation itself was divided into 2 groups, one of which looked as trailworn as the PC's themselves. Concluding that these must be refugees from the shanty town itself, the PC's decided to sit with them.

The service passed as these things do, and offering plates were presented to those present as they filed out. The PC's made their offerings. Then the priestess Ellinde approached them and took them aside. She asked them why Shallya should bless them of all people. On hearing an account of the PC's heroic adventures, the priestess decided to tend to their wounds, naming a price of 4gc each.

Ellinde began by cleaning and bandaging the PC's wounds. Then she laid hands on their wounds and invoked the healing powers of the goddess, with the aid of leeches which she attached to the wounded areas. First Alane then Berthold enjoyed the benefits of the goddess' intervention. When Ellinde came to Mordrin something seemed to go wrong. The young dwarf's wounds were healed sure enough, but Ellinde's air of tolerant neutrality changed to one of near outright hostility. She insisted on receiving another 1gc from each PC then told them to leave immediately.

A bit confused by this, the PC's did as they were told. Finding themselves out in the streets, they noticed that there were many small bands of militiamen visibly on patrol. Oh no, realised Siegfried- it's Aubentag [Levyday]. This realisation came too late though, as the party were called to a halt by a well-dressed gentleman accompanied by 6 halberdiers and a sergeant-at-arms.

The gentleman explained that, what with the pressure of refugees having swollen Delberz's population to twice its normal size, the town's coffers were under serious strain. This meant that, the party clearly being outsiders, they were to be levied the sum of 1gc each, a statement that did not go down well with the PC's. Siegfried in particular was outraged.

Siegfried's first ploy was to try to point out 'his' name in the tax collector's register of residents. The thief being illiterate however meant that this ploy relied for its success on the help of young Berthold. This assistance wasn't forthcoming. The tax collector decided to take this in good humour, and insisted on payment all the same. Siegfried next tried dropping the name of Captain Schutzmann from Middenheim. Unimpressed, the tax collector retorted with a remark about Graf Todbringer, the Lord of Delberz, his own master and Captain Schutzmann's own noble overlord.

By this time the sergeant at arms accompanying the tax collector was quietly deploying his men in case of serious trouble, and Berthold at least was growing ever more nervous at the prospect of yet more pointless violence. Recognising this, Seigfreid finally paid up, albeit with poor grace and as many small denominations as he could find in his purse.

Watching the locals in the streets give them a wide berth as they headed back for a quiet night at Wat's on the Wharf, the party resolved to ensure that they never spent another Aubentag in a town, preferring to risk mutants and monsters than face another overzealous taxman.

From Delberz to Altdorf
- #2 Turning the tables
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim

Friday, November 11, 2005


Finally caught the Serenity movie the other day, when Donald and I went to see this much-awaited Hollywood space opera. Long story short: I just loved it! Having been a fan of Buffy, and having seen a couple of episodes of the Firefly TV series, I had high expectations for this latest piece of work from Joss Whedon, and boy I wasn't disappointed!

Right from the outset we were plunged into a world of paranoid doublethink and murderous darkness, making me feel that we weren't in the familiar territory of the Hollywood blockbuster. This was kept up throughout the movie, thanks to the plot, and some great dialogue and really funny lines.

Sure, there were some real cliches in this film, and the homages to Star Wars and to Bladerunner was obvious, but so what? I came out of watching Serenity having been entertained, with my intelligence stimulated, and having had my heartstrings plucked. This is an all too rare experience for me these days. Serenity might well be the best space opera movie since Star Wars.

Ros joined Donald and I after the movie and we got in a game of Settlers. Ros' normal talents failed her in this game, leaving Donald and I to fight it out for victory. In the end I won thanks largely to a rash of quick city-building. This win was unexpected because Donald looked to have by far and away the best resource base, and he certainly got off to a good start with rapid early expansion.

Finally for now: I will be attending DiceConEast 2005 in Edinburgh on Sunday 20th November. Dicecon
is run by the Scottish Boardgames Association, and this is the 2nd Edinburgh event. I will be GM'ing a Memoir'44 tournament on the day, and hoping to get a chance to play some Advanced Squad Leader, and maybe even some Up Front. If anyone reading this is in the vicinity on the day, I heartily recommend this event: it's just boardgames, boardgames, boardgames all the way!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

In review: Sigmar's Heirs

Sigmar's Heirs- A Guide to the Empire
Anthony Ragan
GW: Black Industries

The new BI/Green Ronin WFRP2 range continues to expand rapidly, with 10 products already on the shelves, 8 of them hardback books. Sigmar's Heirs- A Guide to the Empire (WFRP2:SH) was the first general background book to be released for the new range. As such it could be said that SH is a landmark book for the WFRP2 range. I mean to say: 1st ed. WFRP has long been famous for its campaign packs, with The Enemy Within in particular widely regarded as the best rpg campaign ever produced.

All the same, the WFRP Old World setting has long been at least as popular as any specific product throughout the game's history. Moreover, I would venture that it is the underlying strengths of the setting itself that will carry the game forward in its new incarnation. This is why I would suggest that the setting background books which will open up the Old World to a new generation of players are going to be important parts of the new line. Make or break might be too strong a way to put it, but crucial strikes me as less than an overstatement.

So let's see what Mr. Ragan has given us in this here tome.

First Impressions
As ever with this new line of frpg product, first impressions are about as good as they get. We have a nice little hardback volume that will sit nicely on your gaming shelves alongside other books from the range. Inside we find the nice layout for which Green Ronin are justly reknowned. What is particularly neat about GR's approach is that it breaks the contents down nicely into bite-sized chunks that make the contents as digestible as possible for harassed GM's. This isn't unique to GR to be sure, but they do a damn good job.

Delving deeper
The contents of WFRP2:SH break down into an introduction, 8 chapters, and 2 appendices.

The introduction is of the form that will already be familiar to readers of WFRP2 products: a summary of the contents of the book.

The 8 chapters are as follows:
1. The Land and the People
2. The History of the Empire
3. Government and Foreign Relations
4. Law, Justice and Criminals
5. Cults of the Empire
6. The Grand Provinces
7. Forbidden Cults
8. Ill Met in Bogenhafen.

The appendices are:
1. New Careers
2. Provincial Features.

The appendices
Of this material, the 2 appendices are the easiest to evaluate.

There are 8 new careers that provide more colour to the Imperial background. These range from street careers like Gambler and Raconteur, to careers with more of a place in the Imperial hierarchy like Knight of the Blazing Sun or Verenean Investigator. Three careers are basic careers- and the appendix includes notes on how GM's can make these available to new PC's; the other 5 are advanced careers. All in all these look like good additions to the WFRP2 career system, and they should prove particularly useful to GM's looking to widen the range of their NPC's, not to mention offering new scope to players.

The 2nd appendix gives variant starting skills and talents for human characters according to which of the 10 Grand Provinces they hail from. As with the new careers, these are simple rules that add an extra touch to the cultural depth for which WFRP has long been famous. More good stuff in other words.

Meat and drink: the chapters
This material is the core of the book, and it is by this content that it will stand or fall. Overall, it has to be said that the material is very good.

Some of the material expands upon that in the core rulebook. Other material is newer. Chapter 4: Law, Justice and Criminals strikes me as a case in point. One of the things that marked the Old World out from day one was that it was a world of consequences. That is to say: in a time when PC's would regularly walk into village taverns tooled up for all out war- and then wage it against the hapless locals- WFRP was a setting whose very detail addressed players' attentions to the legal consequences of their more murderous actions. So a chapter like Chapter 4 is very important for establishing this important part of the classic background.

This chapter is brief, to be sure- 6 pages, as are others: eg. chapter 1-covering the geography of the Empire, and the 4 races- is a mere 6 pages; or chapter 3- covering the forms of government and foreign relations- 4 pages.

That said, the merit of all this material is that it is well written. What I mean to say by this is that it is well focussed on the sort of material that will help GM's with their games. In other words: what we are getting is a gaming supplement and not a sociohistorical treatise.

This is most evident in the lengthiest chapter in the book: chapter 6: the Grand Provinces. This gives details of all 10 of the provinces that make up the Empire. Each province is presented in the same format:
- Quick details
- The Land
- The People
- Significant Places
- Sample character
- Gazetteer
- Adventure hooks
As well as the above list, each section also includes colour text giving:
- comments on the province from various sources
- local sayings
- lengthier accounts by outsiders.

The latter material gives a real flavour for the self-image of the provincial inhabitants as well as how they are seen by others. The overall effect is to give a nice feel for the insularity inherent in the Old World setting, which is a key feature in the atmosphere of fear and paranoia that has always been so liked by the game's many fans.

The detailed accounts of each province is more than sufficient for GM's new to the setting to find their feet in the Empire. The Gazetteers detail each settlement listed according to 6 categories (plus notes) including size, ruler, wealth, and so on. The other sections give vivid descriptions appropriate to their topic, all of which are focussed on the kind of information which should give GM's ideas for scenarios, or of backgrounds to the same.

The adventure hooks- of which there are 2 for each province- might not be terribly original, but they are well suited for giving new GM's an idea of the kind of scenario they could run in the Empire. Experienced GM's might not need this material in other words, but at some 3-4 pages all told, this is still pretty good bang for your buck it seems to me.

All in all then, while WFRP2:SH might very well be the proverbial quart in a pint pot, it is certainly one where the key decisions- about what to include- have by and large been well taken.

The downside?
So by this time you might be thinking that I am well satisified with my purchase of WFRP2:SH, and I am: it strikes me as a book that will stand a new WFRP GM in good stead for a long time. But there are gripes I have to say.

My first gripe is one that the people at BI are already well familiar with from their forum: typos. It has to be said that there are too many typos for comfort in this book. Truth to tell, there are none that I can remember having a terrible effect on the sense of the text. All the same, I am just the sort of person who's bugged by spelling mistakes, so I have to mention this.

More serious than this IMO is the matter of maps. The Bogenhafen scenario aside, there are only 2 maps in this book: both of the Empire as a whole. One looks like an 'actual' map of the Empire, while the other is an 'actual' document from the Empire itself. These are both OK (the 2nd one is really quite nice in fact).But only having 2 maps is something I don't like. If I am not mistaken 1st ed. WFRP was well known for having many maps, something that I think is important for a fantasy setting in general, but more especially for a game which sets such store in versimillitude as does WFRP.

I mean to say: the 'Ill Met in Bogenhafen' scenario takes up 19 pages (nearly 1/6th of the entire book). Now it has to be said that the scenario looks quite nice: it gives a taster of the unique style of WFRP scenarios while at the same time building on the events of 1st ed's Shadows Over Bogenhafen. So, in this sense, the scenario is OK. But the question does have to be asked whether or not it was appropriate to devote so much of a background book to material of such limited utility, relative to the rest of the book.

It seems to me that this question is all the more pertinent when you consider that the space allotted to 'Ill Met in Bogenhafen' could've translated into an extra 2 pages per province (for example). That is to say: a full page map plus extra background material, to give but one suggestion. Regional maps of this ilk would've been all the more useful given the detail of the gazetteers themselves, which all include more than a dozen locations. Only a handful of these are represented on the larger map of the 2 in this book. And it has to be said that the editorial decision to include a scenario in this book makes even less sense when you consider that BI have 4 books of the size of WFRP2:SH either published or planned.

The above caveats do not mean that this book is less than useful to a WFRP GM. In fact I would have to say that this book is indispensable to a GM new to the Warhammer Old World looking for more information about the central setting for games of WFRP. One of the main reasons for this is that what the book does contain is well written, and well focussed to the needs of a GM. Read this book a couple of times, and I'm sure you'll have plenty of ideas for your own game.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


The consumerist bug bit me today resulting in a trip to GW. There I was able to pick up the new assault terminator set that was released Saturday last- when I was too busy with World D&D Day to have any time for the latest GW releases.

I have been a fan of GW's iconic genetically-engineered power-armoured super-soldiers pretty much since day 1. And the terminator variants of these same definitive toy soldiers of our time were the first 40K minis I ever owned. I have owned 3 different incarnations of these minis since then. The new plastic terminator minis are the 1st new space marine terminators to be released since GW reinvented their plastic 40K with the advent of 3rd ed. 40K several years ago.

The new assault terminators boxed set follows the pattern expected after the release, earlier this year, of the updated plastic terminator boxed set: the leg and torsos sprues with which space marine fans have already become familiar; and additional sprues for lightning claws, and for thunder hammer and storm shield close combat options. As ever with such sets from GW of late there is a full complement of both weapon options.

In addition to the 5 full sets of each weapon options, the new sprues- the lightning claws' sprue to be precise- include 18 new accessories- from purity seals to decorative shields. These are in addition to the 8 accessories included on the leg and torso sprues. This is perhaps not the most generous allocation of extra parts in a GW plastic boxed set, but it's still not bad, especially when you consider that you get 25 parts for the 2 different weapon options that are at the core of this set.

Questions of how much stuff aside, what about the quality of the contents?

Well, I have here to repeat my earlier remark that newer GW plastic releases seem to me to have more flash than did the company's releases of old. And I must also here state a personal preference: for once I find myself preferring an older GW space marine design to an update- the new lightning claws in this case. That said the sheer versatility of the new plastic parts- even before conversion possiblities are considered- mean that I'll certainly be using the new parts for any future terminator lightning claw squads. I'll be keeping the older parts for conversions for other models I guess.

Those 2 complaints aside, the new plastic terminators are just so much better than any previous incarntions of these classic GW minis- because of the inherent posability that comes from their design, that I would recommend them to any space marine fan. They look like fun models to work with. They come with some nice parts for the spares box. And here's hoping that they might just kick some serious ass one of these days! ;)

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Adventures of Felix Mephisto, Gentleman: Part 2

Chapter 5. In which: Conspirators Are Confronted & Confounded, & Felix Receives His Just Reward

So, with 4 of us knackered after Saturday's long session and subsequent late night, we decided yesterday just to round off Donald's first Flashing Blades adventure. Brian's presence brought a 5th PC into the adventure just in time for the conclusion.


It might've been the pangs Felix was feeling over the fate of the innocent servants of the Chevalier Didonner. Or it might've been the tensions of the wait for the confrontation with the conspirators that was to follow that evening. Either way our 4 heroes spent a quiet and restless afternoon which was broken only by another trip to reconnoitre the nearby graveyard, and by discussions to plan their attack.

In the end it was agreed to split into pairs- Felix and Baron Tourné- posing as people interested in graveyard memorial architecture, on the one hand; and van Horstmann and Marie- posing as mourners, on the other. Arriving with plenty of time to spare, our heroes deployed their bravoes- 7 city guardsmen under their command on the authority of the Constable General- in hiding in a nearby mausoleum (Felix winced to see their desecration of this repose of the dead, until he realised that it was a Papist plot, after all). The guardsmen were told that a gunshot would be their signal to rush to our heroes' aid.

Another long wait began.

Some time later shouting was to be heard from the mausoleum that was the guardsmen hideout. Hastening thence our brave defenders of France discovered 2 guardsmen- one of them their sergeant- arguing over a game of dice. Felix instructed the guard sergeant to exercise more control over his men, not to mention more discretion himself. The Baron Tourné had to be dissuaded from joining their game.

Returning to their watch our intrepid investigators didn't have long to wait before they caught sight of the first conspirator, who Jean-Claude recognised as the Baron de Gras, who was the intended overseer of the new project to construct the series of fortifications along the Spanish Netherlands border. He and his 2 henchmen both were decked out in the by now familar red kerchief, which was soon accompanied by a mask that was pulled down from under their hats.

De Gras and his henchmen noticed Felix and Jean-Claude lurking nearby as they passed, but fortunately our pair's ruse to conceal their intentions passed muster, and the conspirator and his companions passed by. Our 4 heroes sought suitably concealed vantage points from which to maintain a watch on events. Soon there were 4 recognised conspirators present- one of whom was a leading member of the Bank of the Brothers de Vittoria, so that Felix and the Baron finally realised that the bank was part of the conspiracy and not one of its victims. Also recognised was the Spanish ambassador. Each was accompanied by 2 henchmen.

Unbeknownst to all present, there was also another watcher nearby, but he chose to maintain his concealment at this point.

Seeing the conspirators gathered for their planned gathering, our intrepid investigators rapidly understood that this was no time for subtlety. This was reinforced when- as our heroes looked to their weapons- another outburst of shouting was heard from the mausoleum where the city guard was hidden. Our heroes opened fire, Felix choosing to aim for the villainous Spanish ambassador.

Taken unawares, the conspirators and their henchmen rallied quickly, drawing a variety of weapons to prepare themselves against attack. Gunshots were exchanged, including some which appeared to target the traitors from an unexpected quarter. The conspirators' bodyguards were just preparing to launch an assault at our heroes when they were diverted by the arrival of the city guard, who had managed to respond to the prearranged signal despite their own brouhaha.

The ensuing melee was mercifully short, thanks in part to the arrival of the mysterious 5th man- a gentleman who became known to Felix only as Xavier; but mostly because the plotters had little stomach for a fight. The one traitor who posed a real threat delivered some telling blows to the unfortunate Baron Tourné, but chose to surrender when his more lily-livered fellows left him outnumbered several to one.

Relieving the plotters of their weapons and other possessions before they were marched off to meet their well-deserved fates, our brave defenders of France found detailed specifications of the plans and armaments for the projected fortresses, as well as a credit note from the crown for several hundred thousand livres: a conspiracy that could've ripped the heart from France's continental power just as it had been stabilised following the victory at Rocroi in other words.

Felix's satisfaction at this outcome was magnified when the Constable General paid our heroes for their endeavours. Receiving the sum of 200 livres, our young gentleman's first thought was that he could, after all, pay his taxes this year. Our would-be bourgeois was to enjoy further gratification later, when he discovered that his services to France had led to his promotion at his Club of Saint George- he was now a club manager, who could enjoy the club's services for no annual fee in return for a minor allocation of his time.

All of which left our gentleman finding it very easy to nurse his minor wounds when he returned to his apartments sometime thereafter.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

World D&D Day

So, yesterday was the first ever World D&D Day. Taking a look at the WotC site it looks like the list of participating stores was fairly impressive in the end, in a certain way.

When I say a 'certain way' I mean to say that it's not a bad list of participants in an attempt to coordinate some kind of event which must, in the end, require people to step up to volunteer their own time and effort. I guess I'm just being a bit wistful here at the thought of what might happen if an event of this ilk could be organised on a scale comparable to, say, one of GW's worldwide ttg campaigns.

One notable feature of the list of official events is the complete absence of any British venues. Could this have something to do with the clash with UK GenCon, taking place in the Bognor Regis Butlins holiday camp over this very weekend? I don't know for sure, but you'd think that an event of this scale in Britain could've made its presence felt in World D&D Day? Maybe it's just down to the pace of WotC's site updates?

In any case, overcome with sentiment in the face of this marketing ploy on the part of WotC, we decided to get together and play some d20 ourselves. Brian and Tony both volunteered to GM, and we set to with a will.

First off was Brian's game.

The Voyage of the Silver Swallow
Set in the 'Full Metal Fantasy' world of the Iron Kingdoms, this game took place on the riverboat the Silver Swallow during a journey down-river from Corvis to the city of the Five Fingers. Brian gave us all pregenerated 7th level characters with enough background for us to have good hooks to get going.

So the party was:
- Sean Mohr: 5th/2nd level Thurian rogue/adventurous scholar.
- Aden Walshfur: 7th level Caspian paladin.
- Grey Lord Gregor Constantine: 7th level Kossite wizard.
- Father Bastion Forbes: 5th/2nd level Caspian cleric/battle chaplain.
- Sergei Kerchenko: 5th/2nd level Umbrian fighter/rifleman.

The adventure was too complex and multilayered for me seriously even to scratch the surface of the depths of the intrigues of the plot, but I will try to give a flavour. Among the events our party had to cope with were:
- blind prejudice
- drunken sexual jealousy and legalised attempted murder in the form of duelling
- theft
- actual murder, in the form of poisoning, stabbing, and frenzied assault
- infiltration of the riverboat crew by pirates
- crazed vengance seekers
- assassination
- a lynch mob.

As we picked our way through the paranoia and the plot twists, we were also 'fortunate 'enough to encounter such fiendish creatures as: a ripperjack, a gun wraith, a couple of other kinds of hellish undead creations of the Cryx. Oh yes, and a Satyxis raider, IIRC. This last is an irresistably attractive goat-horned woman with a taste for fetish fashions and the mating habits of a black widow spider. She was trying to get her husband back, and she had the magical powers to make us feel foolish for trying to get in her way.

In the end though, after a furious melee against the pirates and said evil female's various dark minions, our heroes prevailed (well, except Sean Mohr sad to say).

I have been aware of the Iron Kingdoms setting for some time via the lovely miniatures Privateer Press produce for their Warmachine ttg. The steampunk thing going on in this world has long appealed to me, and I really enjoyed my first taste of roleplaying in the setting. I wonder if we'll return some time?

A wee pause to catch our breath, and then it was time for Tony's game.

The Serpent Women of Kurtin
This was set in Tony's own classic high fantasy setting- Natas Duree, with all the Tolkeinesque trappings. Donald had to leave, so the rest of us set to work with our dice and soon had a bunch of 1st level D&D PC's.

- El-Araiah: elf fighter.
- Shuman Arfos: human cleric.
- Cullin Cormacht: human bard.
- Alderic: human fighter.

This game was the first time Tony had GM'ed in several years, and the first time he'd GM'ed his old fantasy world in more years than that, not to mention the first time he'd ever GM'ed d20. So his scenario was a classic simple plot: help the villagers against the evil monsters, which we all duly did.

Apart from the usual buzz of trying out newly rolled PC's we all enjoyed Tony's descriptions, particularly his spooky serpent women. The scenario left our PC's in possession of some ancient gold coins and a valuable looking dagger, not to mention the mystery of the serpent women themselves, all of which are hooks enough to have piqued our interest for the future.

And that was our own taste of World D&D Day, which we wound down with reflections on what we like and don't like about d20 as it now stands before us. But that's not for today.

PS. Been offline due to problems with my ISP recently, hence my absence on Friday and Saturday.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


An old buddy of mine read my blog yesterday and felt compelled to email me about it. This was as unsolicited as it was unexpected, so I just had to reply to Martin's comments here.
Initiative:Having played D20 but not WFRP (at least not for 20 years) I have a problem with your interpretation of the initiative system, D20 cannot compare to the Hero Speed Table because essentiallly in D20 you have 1 roll for initiative but after the first round that means nothing i.e. you roll a 20, baddies roll a 19, you move first then them, you roll a 19 they roll a 20, they move first then you, but this is carried forward each turn, so, as a PC, if they move first, I ignore it and count us as moving first from the 2nd turn onwards. That is all there is to it - after the first roll turns alternate, no big deal. With the Hero system there are segments where you move, other segments where they move and some where you both move (dependant on DEX) but this s far more complex than the D20 or by your implication, the WFRP system. I might be missing something because of your rant but????
Well Martin, I'm a bit unclear on some of what you're saying here, but if I get it correctly: you alternate initiative after the first turn? In that case it's hardly surprising my point was opaque to you: you're either houseruling initiative in d20 games, or the rules have changed from v3 to v3.5.

I was commenting on the way that the initiative system of WFRP2 (which it shares with d20) gives each combat a definite beat- or rythym, because the order of combat is essentially fixed after just one initiative roll. It is this fixed order of actions that I was comparing to the HERO SPD table, which has the same effect on each given combat- ie. it fixes the order in which the combatants act, according to their SPD and DEX.

I wasn't saying that the HERO SPD table and the d20/WFRP2 initiative systems are the same (heaven forbid!- ie. HERO is far more complex!). I was just comparing one effect both approaches deliver that I happen to like. This effect is very different from the traditional rules for rolling for initiative- where the action sequence each turn used to vary. This is why the issue of the fixed beat- and the comparison with HERO- leapt out at me when I saw the initiative rules in WFRP2 only a few months ago.
KILLING PC's: I am sorry but to kill 3 PC's in a random encounter is careless, not to mention negligent. If I am a GM, my job is to make sure the players enjoy themselves, tell a good story, put them in peril, kill them if it fits the story, but a random encounter?????
Well yes Martin, I guess I would confess that carelessness and negligence were on display all round that day, from the PC's and the GM. It's a learning curve thing for all of us I guess. But well, there are 2 points specific to WFRP that you might be missing here. The first is that the PC's aren't actually dead, as such. They all had Fate Points left, so they're all still alive- just a little more doomed, is all.

In addition? Well I'm sure that you don't need me to lecture you on the difference between, say a superhero rpg and a 'real death' rpg Martin. Nor will you need any telling that WFRP is a real death game. But WFRP is a wee bit more than that I'd have to say. Both from the setting and the combat rules, WFRP is a pointless death game. Love it or hate it, but that's one of the key features of the atmosphere of this great rpg, a feature that made this game stand out way back when it was first published.

In WFRP there is no such thing as a bunch of mooks there just to provide a speed bump for the PC's on their way to the inevitable climactic encounter with the chief baddie of the big adventure. Nope. In WFRP, every time you enter combat you risk getting wasted at a moment's notice because of Sheer Dumb Luck.

Moreover, just like in so many rpg's- fantasy rpg's in particular I'll warrant- not every opportunity for combat is plot-related: some are simply random encounters, or, to put it another way- encounters which represent the inherent dangers of the setting as opposed to the specific dangers of the given plot. This again is true to the WFRP setting, in which outlaws, mutants, beastmen, and other horrors lurk in the woods and elsewhere just waiting to prey on hapless travellers, especially in the post-Storm of Chaos default setting for WFRP2.

'Fate' chose my PC's to be thus hapless my last session. Restatements of my own shock aside, there isn't anything I can usefully add really.

So thanks for emailing me Martin. I hope I've answered your points satisfactorily.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Well, I'm back. I've been on a trip which made regular updates impossible, so I just decided to take a complete break from the blog.

The trip has meant that I haven't done any gaming to write about, although I have been thinking about killing off 3 PC's in the last WFRP session. I had been commenting only a couple of weeks previously that I was feeling I’d been a bit too kind in my WFRP campaign because I'd only killed one PC in some 12 sessions. This was hardly the "grim world of perilous adventure" so popular among WFRP fans I was thinking.

The next thing I knew your basic random encounter- which I had included for the sake of a flavour of the dangers of travel in the post-SoC Old World; your basic bit of random violence goes and finishes off 3 PC's from a party of 5. I had been thinking of upping the threat levels of encounters a bit, to make the PC's feel the heat a bit more; but I hadn't been planning on wasting them with such alacrity. And the heroes have only just begun their journey to deal with a nameless threat of unknown magnitude back in Stirland near vampire country.

I know that being a 'real death' rpg is one of the peculiar appeals of WFRP. I can tell myself that I didn't set the PC's up to get whacked in some kind of no-win situation. And there is a measure of reassurance in the fact that the players were unusually unlucky with their dice that day. All the same, I still feel strangely squeamish about those 3 PC deaths even as I am well aware that I should know better.

I find this experience peculiar.

Struggling as I am with too many sentences beginning with "I", I find myself thinking that this unsettling feeling comes down to 2 things.
1. A worry that I was, in the end, unfair on my players in some way or another- something I can only get an answer to by talking this over with my players.
2. Another worry (argh!- I seem unable to escape sentences that all want to start with the same words today): that the first adventure of my own devising in my WFRP campaign will prove to be just too much for my PC's- time will tell I guess.

Still, these GM's worries aside, I did enjoy running the combat. I like the WFRP2 combat system, and am looking forward to trying out the d20 system with which it shares several key features.

One shared feature that I particularly like is the initiative system. What I mean to say is that I like the way that initiative is generated once and once only for each combat- instead of each round that is. There is one obvious reason for this: it makes life much easier for the players, the GM especially. In simple playability terms then, this is good design.

I like this mechanic for other reasons though. What I'm on about here is the feel that this approach gives to combat. Let me explain. I am a long-time fan of the HERO system. Some of my most memorable roleplaying has been done with this system. One of the key features of this system is its Speed (SPD) table. Without going into details, the effect of this on play is that everyone's actions in combat go in a sequence that is determined once and for all according to their SPD, with any variations according to DEX alone- fixed initiative in other words. As a PC I used to really enjoy making the most of the particular 'beat' my character's SPD brought to combat.

This is something that WFRP and d20's initiative rules bring with simpler mechanics, and a twist. The twist is the variation provided by that familiar old mechanic- the initiative dice roll. What this gives is a fixed beat for each combat, with variations in that beat possible in different combats. As I said, I like the fixed initiative mechanic because it offers interesting tactical options in play, based on exploiting the resulting 'beat'. The variation given by the initiative roll is nice because it introduces the idea of 'form', or good days and bad days: something players- GM or PC- can use to add to their character interactions in other words.

Ease of play; interesting tactical options; and grist to roleplayers' mills: that's quite good going for a minor twist on a venerable old mechanic, don't you think?