Sunday, January 28, 2018

Skulls of Spoke Top Hill, Part 2

This is part 2 of Don't Go Past the Skulls post.

Gavin and his companion, Douglas, climbed the south side of Spoke Top Hill, Janon suggested they go that way. That's the side the Corron use when they make their rare trips into the villages.

"There's no goddamn path." Gavin erupted after searching the hillside for the better half of the morning. "We keep climbing up, but there's no trail and none of their damn skulls."

"All of which suits me fine," Douglas added.

A friend and traveling companion from when both were boys. Douglas wore a lion medallion he'd gotten when he'd joined the holy order of Delaquain. He left after a few months. But it was a longer stay than his time in the Guild of Arcane Lore. Disipline had never been a strength of his. He wore the studded leather of a guard from Eastgate, he'd walked the wall for less than a year, and held a spear he stole from a sleeping mercenary in the Seahawk Tavern.

"I've no idea why you want to risk your neck, our necks, to speak to some savage augur." He frowned when he saw a pile of rocks stacked with purpose. He stepped around it, not wanting to disturb them. "We've got perfectly good liars in Eastgate. Cost you a bit more I imagine, but the result still the same. Ohhh you have a dark future. Ohhh you have a might battle ahead. Ohhh you'll be a great leader one day. Ohhh, you have the most charming traveling companion. Nonsense like that. In Eastgate we could hear the nonsense and then hit the tavern, a real tavern where the air doesn't taste like dirt and shit."

Gavin shook his head searching the ground. His eyes saw the same pile of rocks, but it meant nothing. "I can't go to any of the temples in Eastgate. They'd know and it'd be used against me. The oracle would tell me what I wanted to hear. I can't have that. Not this time." His foot brushed against the pile of rocks and a few fell away.

From the canopy of trees, birds burst into the sky. Both Gavin and Douglas flinched from the sudden noise as dozens of large black birds took flight. They stood motionless, searching the trees. The angry cawing of the birds faded. Douglas held his spear in both hands, Gavin braced his shield and held his sword close to his body. Both men did not speak, but moved so their backs were to one another.

After a few minutes of quiet both men relaxed enough to speak. Gavin said something about birds and how he hated them. Douglas looked around, it was different. He searched the details. The trees were closer, the branches thicker, lower, tangled with vines. The stone pile was now scattered skulls, cracked and broken with a layer of lichen.

"What the..." Douglas saw Gavin standing over the skulls. "Gavin, get the hell out there."

Gavin looked to his friend, saw he pointed at his feet and looked down. He saw the skulls scattered on the forest floor and knelt to look at them closer. "Mountain magic." He picked up one of the skulls, looked it over then tossed it to the ground again.

Douglas flinched when the skull hit the ground and rolled down hill. "Damn Gavin, have some respect. These Corron have primal magic that make the guilds of Eastgate nervous."

"I'll not be frightened by skulls or stories of their magics."

"Your bravery is noted, but it boarders on a fool's sense." Douglas saw Gavin was standing on a worn path that wound through the trees. "You've found a the trail you were looking for. Your clumsy footwork has finally served you. Well done." He pointed toward the opening in the tangled trees. "Shall we?"

Gavin took the lead. He kept his sword close and moved through the trees slowly. The vines and branches brushed across his shoulders and back. The trees crowded together blocking out much of the sunlight. Gavin saw his breath escape from his mouth.

Up ahead he saw movement. "Do you bring the torches?" he asked Douglas without looking back. He kept his eyes locked on the anomaly ahead of them.

Douglas lit the torch and held it over Gavin's head. His hand became tangled in the vines. When he moved his hand away the vines tightened around his wrist, but he kept hold of the torch as he dropped his spear to grab for his dagger.

"If the skull's eyes watch you, you're safe." Gavin repeated to himself as the torchlight bathed the ground in front of them.

Skulls were stacked together in a makeshift barrier. Gavin saw a basket hanging in a tree. We walked past the skulls making sure to keep the eyes upon him. He reached into his pack and retrieved the dead bird Janon had given him and placed it in the basket.

With some effort Douglas cut through the vine that wrapped around his wrist. His face covered in sweat and the panic on his face was obvious. He moved to stand by Gavin, more skulls, basket with a dead bird, he was very far from the comforts and luxury of Eastgate. He shivered from the cold.

"Now what?" Douglas asked. "Dead bird in a basket. Nice touch."

"I don't know. Janon said to put the bird in the basket. I didn't think to ask what to do next." Gavin sheathed his sword and grabbed the torch from Douglas. He tried to see beyond the skulls, but there more trees. The path ended here.

"I'm cold. I'm building a fire and I'm going to use the damn vines." Douglas said and then went about cutting off the hanging vines. Before too long he had a small fire going. It did little fight off the chill. "You never told me what you needed to ask the augur."

"I know." Gavin planted the torch in the ground near the basket to free his hand for his sword. He kept searching for the dark treeline for movement. Damned if he was about to become someone's stew without a fight.

A shock of pain struck his arm. He lost strength in his hand and his sword fell to the forest floor. He struggled against the pain. He threw down his shield to grab his arm just above is elbow.

"What's wrong?" Douglas quickly stood and checked on his friend. He expected to find an arrow sticking out of Gavin's arm. Nothing. It was then he smelled the faint scent of magic. A sickly sour scent of decay. The manipulation of entropy. He brought his spear to bear and sensed someone, something by the basket.

The torch flickered. The flame decreased slowly until it vanished. The campfire had also gone out. Darkness. Gavin on the ground fighting off the pain in his arm. Douglas kneeling next to his friend waiting.

The faintest glow of light came from the forest behind the skulls. It grew bright enough to blend shadows into the dark places. Sitting on the ground behind the skulls was a cowled form. Douglas caught himself, the urge to run was strong.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Coshing, It Is All the Rage

I was reading through an adventure module from the olden days, The Mines of Keridav written by Kerry Lloyd for Phoenix Games back in 1979. I had hair back then. A lot of it.

While I was reading this relic I found a section on coshing.

Nope, wrong cosh. That's Kosh.

Ah no, that may be a cosh, but not correct one.

There we go, that beauty above was used by press gangs for the Royal Navy back in the day. That look vicious.

So coshing is basically bopping someone in the head and knocking them out. A non-lethal way to subdue someone without a lot of noise.

Umm, not the same thing. Close. Just put the metal baton in Spock's hand and have him club the guy over the head. That would be more accurate. But thank you Spock for the demonstration.

In the Mines of Keridav there is a small section about the mechanics of coshing someone. The adventure is written for Runequest I believe so it may reflect that, but the mechanics could be used universally. Instead of quoting from the adventure I scanned the section.

Click it to make it big. I find the mechanic good for back then, but today I am sure GMs would add a opposing contest of skills. Stealth vs. Perception kind of thing. And then the component for knocking someone out has a lot to do with the hear gear worn.

I like the idea of a non-lethal form of combat. In 1970s shows there was always a lot of coshing going on. Whap someone in the back of the head, they would catch them for some reason, probably to reduce the noise, lay them on the ground or stash them out of sight and then continue on.

Here's the problem I have with it, in my game, if the players can do it, so can the NPCs. Can you imagine a 5th level fight standing guard gets knocked out with one blow. The outrage. The cries of injustice. The throw of dice and tantrums. And that's just me. I would need to change it up if I planned to use coshing in my game.

Here's what I would do. The base of success would not be determined by the helmet, but by the character's saving throw. I think this is a mechanic that fits well with the use of a saving throw. I mainly play games were there is single save, but if you play a game with more than one type of save you can just pick the best fit. Then I would give bonuses to the save based on the helmet. Say +1 for a coif, +2 for leather helm, +3 for a metal helm. Keeping it simple. And if the head protection has magical bonus I would add that in also. So wearing a +1 coif would provide +2 to your save vs. coshing.

Let me know what you thing and if you know of any other 'knock out' mechanics in games, please let me know.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Musings from a Man Playing Two Middle Earth Games

Let me lead off by saying I am not a huge Middle Earth fan. I've read the Hobbit a few times and the Lord of the Rings once. Seen the first three movies, but not the hobbit movies. And while not being a fan of Middle Earth I find myself in two very interesting Middle Earth games.

The first one is run by +Rob Conley (he knows his Tolkien). I think we started our game back in May of last year. He's using Adventures in Middle Earth, a 5e system flavored with Tolkien. I think it works. The Fellowship phase is probably the biggest change. 

My experience is that regular game time crawls. You can play a year in real time and only a month has passed in game time. Within that month your character has climbed from 1st to whatever level. Nothing wrong with that. Game time is relative. But with the Fellowship Phase, time in Middle Earth seems to move at a more realistic pace. An adventure doesn't take a few days or a week, it takes a season. In addition, with the affect of the Shadow everywhere, these long breaks are needed. 

Rob has done an excellent job of capturing the feel of Middle Earth. From a guy whose been running City-State of the Invincible Overlord for...shit, nearly 35 or 40 years now, he's switched gears well. I'm not an expert by any means, but it does feel like a different land with different problems.

+Chris C. and myself have been a strange duo, a healer/scholar from Laketown and Ferin a dwarf fighter, I can't remember his homeland. We are not a combat first duo. We can't be. I have very little in the way of combat ability so therefore Ferin takes the brunt of the attacks. The interesting thing is how effective we are. Rob runs it so we can use our brains as much if not more than our brawn. Which I think makes for more interesting situations. 

The second Middle Earth game I started two weeks ago. +Dwayne Gillingham is running this one using his own Crit System, think AGE system with a point buy option. He knows his Tolkien also. I'm still learning the lay of the land. Last night our session stopped in the middle of a fight with a mercenary company of umbar. 

What I need to do so I can put more of an effort to keep the immersion is to get a glossary or something. A lot of terms or names thrown about I don't understand the reference. I need a cheat sheet so I don't have to keep asking who the umbar are and whether they are people we wants to battle or not. 

So coming from someone who found reading Middle Earth just above okay, I'm really enjoying these two games. It's actually making me want to read the books again, or at least learn more about the different people and places in Middle Earth. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

December's NPC Cards and Micro-Adventures

It's that time again, I've printed my micro-adventures and NPC cards for the month. I've got a few extras lying and like to give them to a few folks who are interested. All you need to do is leave a comment about your favorite magic item and then email me your address so I know where to send these two laminated beauties.

Those of you who might be interested in getting adventures and NPC Cards in the mail please consider joining my Micro-Adventures Patreon so you won't miss anything. Plus, I've been adding a extras along the way. 

Now let's hear about some cool magic items. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Reviving Dead Religions

One of my go-to elements in gaming is dead gods/religions. I find that ground fertile for plot hooks, campaign long story-line and it is gamable as hell. I've had an entire 3-year campaign based around this theme, even though the players weren't aware of it until the end. 

Recently I was reading +Carl Bussler's and +Eric Hoffman's, Prayers for the Forgotten, and dead gods/religions is what it is about. After reading it I drew a map, because that's what I do. An upcoming micro-adventure will feature a relic of a forgotten god and the opportunity for the party to become figureheads of a resurrected religion. 

Sounds cool, but how does someone go about reviving a forgotten religion? That's where the GM get so have fun. There are few things that could be on the list to consider.
  • Research. Who is this forgotten god? Good, evil, or indifferent? What was the reason for the faithful to stop worshiping? The players may want to take the time to find out who it is their dealing with. Either way, they have the attention of a god, that never seems to end well.
  • Artifacts. Symbols of the religion, whether its retrieving artifacts from another time or creating new ones. This is surprisingly important, especially in the next phase of recruitment. Most of the masses have no direct connection with the god, the symbol becomes the representation of their worship.
  • Recruitment. No  religion stands alone. Gods need worshipers. The party will have to represent why anyone should take up another god to worship. Why should a commoner or noble donate their time and resources?
  • Recruitment of acolytes. Same as above, but more intense. These are the people who will disseminate the information. This is where the religion will thrive or wither away. A religion needs dedicated people who live and breathe their god. Only their dedication will cause the religion to spread.
  • Temples. One of the last phases is the construction of temples for the faithful to gather, to ask for help, and to do what is required to serve their god. Temples not only help the faithful, but represents a significance in power among non-believers. Not everyone will bend a knee to this newly awaken god, but have a temple of some stature filled with faithful, the secular powers that be will at least pay their respects. 
Each path will be unique. But I think these four steps are fairly universal to all up and coming religions. A good structure to go by and steps can easily be added or ignored.

So a question to readers, have you ever done this in a campaign? And if so, how did you handle some of the steps I detailed above?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

...and then the forest turned into wolves.

We'd decided to join the notorious Geribald the Kinslayer, leader of a group called the Brotherhood of Outlaws, to kill the Werewolf of Mirkwood. A creature who wiped out an entire community a fortnight ago. With us, we brought our own band of outlaws, men we salvaged from their own reckless natures. Out band of 15 men strong was made up of mercenary soldiers who followed the angry brother of a king, bandits who ambushed farmers on the road and a murderer. Farin, a dwarven warrior with a fatalistic view that he would die by a great wolf, and myself, Enoch, a scholar, healer from Laketown with no fighting skill.

We entered Mirkwood. We'd been here before, Mirkwood proved to be less than hospitable. It proved itself again to be a manifestation of death. As we reached the top of a rolling hill, below a group of wolves waited. They took up position of ambush. After conferring with Ferin, we devised a plan to shape the battlefield in our favor. We harvested logs from the forest, surrounded our position with flaming logs to funnel the wolves into us and set other flaming logs down the hill towards the wolves position.

The battle was a flurry of smoke and fur. Out spear and shield men formed two lines, if one was wounded they would step back and the one in the second row stepped up. Those that were wounded I did my best to heal. Our archers harassed the wolves with flaming arrows and Ferin was the wild card and fought were the need was most.

While the details are blurry in my mind, the wolves proved to be an overpowering opponent. Our blows missed their mark as their claws and teeth found flesh. And then the pack leader attacked. It leapt over the front line and sunk its teeth deep into me. I felt the pressure on the bone of my arm and was surprised it didn't snap. This seemed to rally the men. They forgot about their individual assignments and concentrated their attacks on the pack leader. The blows the missed or glanced away were now finding the soft underbelly. Arrow and spear sipped away at the leader's life. And now the hunters were being hunted and the pack leader ran.

Farin rushed through the battle, avoiding the snapping jaws of the other wolves, to engage the leader. Farin's axe named Wolf Biter, cleaved into spine and the leader released a loud cry and fell lifeless to the ground. The other wolves scrambled, but it was too late. My men were on them, striking with more confidence and the rest easily slain.

We harvest the pelts. We rested and tended to wounds. We nearly lost two of our men, but both survived. 

Farther into the forest we traveled until we found two men, lookouts of Geribald. We parlayed and were escorted into camp where we made our intentions known. He accept our company, but asked for help for one of his men who'd been bitten by a wolf and the wound was infected by Shadow.

I'd seen Seragon or Blood on the Stone, a bright red flower the grew on rocky outcroppings, coming into camp. It would help with the tending to wounds infected with Shadow. In our search to find the plant I met a curious creature. A woman in the forest. She called herself Duskwater, but said she had no need for names. She told me where to find the flower I sought and just as quickly she disappeared back into the forest near Black Tarn, a large pond. And I swear, she may have turned into a silver trout and swam away. I don't find this odd, I've assisted Beorn who can turn himself into a bear. These things no longer surprise me.

I tended to Geribald's man. He will recover in time. After some rest, some planning, we intend to hunt this werewolf and put an end to its savagery. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Don't Go Past the Skulls or Hillfolk of Spoke Top Hill

"Hidden on Spoke Top Hill is a tribe of hillfolk. Corrons, is what they call themselves. They pay no fealty to a lord, never have. Some say they were born of the hills themselves. Lords and ladies leave them be. Probably best. They've got bad magic." Janon looked to over his young drinking companion, a fairly intelligent boy, maybe man, but that has yet to be determined, shiny armor, shiny shield, with the inevitable old sword that probably his father or uncle gave him.

"I hope you have more information for me." The would-be adventure said. Impatient and quick to anger.

Janon shook his finger at the boy. "This won't do. You lead with your stupid and your arrogance. If you go up on that hill demanding answers you won't come back. No matter how strong you are, that bad magic puts even a wise old man, like myself, to my knees. Why would you want to leave a warm tavern and frothy ale to disturb hillfolk that would rather put you in a stew than talk to you?"

"They eat people?" His horrified expression escaped before he had a chance to cover it.

Janon waved his cup around. "That's one of the things they say. Eat the meat, use the skins." He leaned in to whisper and for effect. "They skin ya while you're still breathing, easier to do I hear." Leaning back, "I didn't catch your name the first time, once you said ale I didn't hear word after."

"Gavin. Gavin of Pelumbra. Son of..."

"Gavin is good enough. The rest don't mean much here. So Gavin, what brings you and your shiny armor and shiny shield to our quiet town. You seriously thinking of climbing Spoke Top and stirring up the Corrons?"

Gavin's large adam's apple slid down and he nervously swallowed. "I've need of their augur."

"Do you now? I don't need an augur to tell me if you go past the skulls you'll make a fine meal."

"What skulls?"

"They nest skulls of their victims in the trees that border what is considered their land. It's easy. If the skull's eyes watch you, you're safe. See the back of the skull and you'll be dead before sunrise." Janon finished the last sip of ale. He looked tired and still coated from the day's work on the fields.

Gavin stood. "Thank you."

"Don't thank me. I did everything but stick a knife in your back." Janon put his hand in his satchel and pulled out a dead bird and offered it to Gavin. "Find a basket. I can't tell you where it'll  be, but find it. Put the bird in it and wait. Don't go past the skulls." He looked at Gavin the boy and shook his head. "I'm not fooling when I say they have bad magic. Offer the bird and wait. One of them may come talk to you. One may not."

A searing pain struck Gavin in his right arm. He grabbed his muscle with his left hand and checked if he was bleeding. He found nothing and as quickly as the pain struck, it vanished.

Janon shook his head as he stood to leave. He point a dirt covered finger at Gavin's arm. "That's a warning. They know you're coming."

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Developing NPCs

The picture is of my latest release. the 5th in my NPC Card series on my Patreon. Traksha is a troglodyte with psychopathic tendencies who survives in the Komor Forest by trading with a human he hasn't killed and a lot of goblins he has killed. 

Why create a psychopathic troglodyte NPC? Not sure why you wouldn't want one. Traksha is one type of NPC I like to create. A creature or person who is an oddity within their own culture. While I love a horde of nameless orcs washing over the landscape, burning and killing, leaving a swath of perfect destruction behind, I also enjoy adding a personal touch. An enemy you can put a name to isan enemy worth killing. Hell, the party may find he or she worth an exchange of words. *GASP* Probably not, but should increase the chances.

Let's talk about developing an antagonist NPC. In Traksha sace most of what the party experiences at first is the result of his actions. A group of dead goblins. A family of homesteaders killed as they slept. Both are bad, but let's take it a step farther. Let's make Traksha a bit more malevolent. After killing the homesteaders he brought with him a pair of goblin feet he sliced off earlier in the week and fashioned gruesome footwear. To put the blame on the goblins. And, it amused Traksha.

If the party investigates, they find the dead goblins. It appears the killers have been killed. This could be the end of it until more killings happen, but one of the more inquisitive of the party investigates a bit more and notices the goblins have been dead longer than the homesteaders. The game is afoot.

Traksha isn't the kind of NPC that you want to throw into a head on fight with the party. He knows he won't survive. He's the kind of NPC that works behind the scenes for as long as the GM deems him valuable as an unknown. Also, it allows the party to use investigation tactics. I'm not talking about a simple roll, I'm talking about gathering information to discover habits, track and find him.

When I use an NPC like Traksha, I'm using Swords & Wizardry Continual Light as the system, hit points are low, combat is fast and deadly. When in combat he chooses the environment to give him the best chance. So play him smart, but allow the players the chance to figure him out. To understand Traksha's tells and habits.

One of the suggestions I would have when running Traksha and NPCs like him, run situations backwards from when the party encounters a situation the NPC influenced or encounters the NPC. Let's take the goblin patrol scene first. I would create a minimum of three connective dots (I sometimes use four to five) that lead to the current scene.

Here's an example. We are running the scene backwards.

  • Goblins are all dead, Traksha strips them of the supplies and decides to slice the feet off of one of the larger goblins. He has an idea he thinks is funny.
  • Goblins are hunting when the lead goblin is flung into the air by a snare trap. The fat goblin in the rear makes an odd squeaking sound.  He stands there, blood flowing out of a large slit across his throat. Traksha uses his camouflage ability to get into position. Three goblins left, he is patient. He takes out each goblin from behind (wounds will show this). 
  • Traksha knows the goblins use this hunting path. He placed foot snares to distract and surprise the goblins. He is using a rocky terrain spot to blend into and give him the freedom to escape without a trace if need be. For now, he takes up a position he can spot the goblins approach. 
Your details don't have to be extensive. But, some small details can make the party encountering the goblins more interesting. And most important, it provides information about Traksha, how he thinks and behaves.

With each NPC Card I create at my Patreon I offer up suggestions and situations. You can click over to my Micro-Adventures Patreon to grab a free version of the PDF and consider joining if you would like to get a physical copy of Traksha.