Wednesday, December 31, 2014

WoTR: Other locations in Alfie's "Kingdom"

Also known as things I do when I'm bored.  I basically charted out all known locations currently captured or maintained by Alfy in the Wrath of the Righteous campaign.  He'll probably never visit these places, but hey, I love me some logistics.

LG Hamlet (30)
Corruption -6, Crime -6, Economy -2, Law -1, Lore -4, Society +4
Bedis is a previously abandoned settlement between Kenabres and Fort Portmanteau.  It has the new settlement quality Patriotic which gives Crime and Corruption a -2 and Society a +4.  It isn't racially intolerant toward tieflings as it was resettled by a few pig farmers and their families who were rescued by a tiefling and what they believe to be a child-sized black dragon (see the Wardstone Patrol Pathfinder Society adventure).  This has also caused them to turn toward Sarenrae as their patron deity due to her redemptive qualities - a fact that has drawn their very own 4th level cleric of Sarenrae who makes holy water and cure light wounds potions for the locals.  They have no tavern but the community is willing to billet those passing through in their own homes and stables.  They are teetotallers so there is no liquor to purchase.  Base Value: 200; Purchase Limit: 1000gp; Items: 1d6 Minor

Valas' Gift
CN Small Farming Village (72)
Corruption +1, Crime +4, Economy +2, Law -8, Lore 0, Society -1, Danger +10
Situated in Mendev, this place was empty since the people either fled or died when the wardstones fell.  It was repopulated in the seventh week after Drezen's liberation when Alfy had set off to Brevoy to recruit farmers and labourers to help till the land.  Many of those who followed were chaotic individuals whose desperation made them willing to make the journey and brave demon-infested lands for the promise of a new start.  This place is therefore very much a Chaotic Neutral frontier town.  The village functions as though it were run by a secret society but in truth it barely runs at all.  A 5th level Pharasmin cleric and Brevoy lake pirate looking for a chance at a new life argue over leadership.  The place has become Notorious due to attracting the wrong kind of interest from local mercenary companies using it as a Fertile Soils which is a new feature that provides a +2 bonus to economy.  This is all rather ironic considering the details learned in "Certainty" as the place is blessed with fertile soils and healing waters by a paladin called Valas.  Base Value: 770; Purchase Limit: 3750gp; Items: 2d4 Minor; 1d4 Medium (generally potions),

Fort Portmanteau
LG Fortified Village (200)
Corruption +1, Crime -3, Economy -1, Law +3, Lore -1, Society -5
This village holds an army of 2nd level fighters and an army of 1st level fighters, all raw recruits since the more seasoned troops have been sent elsewhere.  The fort is established near a ford in the West Sellen River but is on the Mendev bank and it's role is to protect the surrounding farmland, something they are ill-pressed to accomplish.  They are led by a 7th level cavalier / paladin (see the Wardstone Patrol) who wishes to retire but can't bring himself to do it while the war still rages so he has taken this position.  They also house a 7th level wizard who is a known member of the Blackfire Adepts who provides some arcane support and develops useful potions.  It has two qualities: Strategic Location and Military Fortification.  Base Value: 450; Purchase Limit: 2250gp; Items: 2d4 Minor; 1d4 Medium

Vilareth Ford
LG Fort / Military Village
Corruption 0, Crime 0, Economy 0, Law 0, Lore 0, Society 0
I have used the Castle Everstand write up from Castles of the Inner Sea for Vilareth Ford, though a Castle Everstand that had been brutally overrun and slaughtered.  As the place hadn't been properly pillaged before being freed, all it needs is to be repopulated.  After quickly clearing the undercrypts, the underground areas can be used to house workers and soldiers.  All named characters are of the few hostages that Alphy located on his way in so that I can still include them - except the clerics who will be a Gorumite and an Erastil priest from Absalom.  At present, though, there is only a single army that roves out from this position.

Keeper's Canyon
Abandoned Small Town (0)
Corruption 0, Crime 0, Economy 0, Law 0, Lore 0, Society 0
This medium-sized small town has been left to fall apart over the past few decades since Drezen's fall.  It can hold up to 500 individuals relatively comfortably.  It is also close enough to the West Sellen River that once the insect warrens are filled in and the river flows through the canyon again, people can still source fish in relative safety.  Such fish might become somewhat tainted (3% chance) but Detect Poison will identify such taint and Purify Food and Water can cure it.  Drinking the water runs a 10% risk of some kind of infection but the water here can still be purified using magic.  There are damaged piers and a watergate here.

Singing Stones Fort
NG Fortified Thorp
Corruption -6, Crime -5, Economy -4, Law -4, Lore -1, Society -6
This lost temple was an abandoned outpost consecrated to Shelyn.  It has a broken down fort, temple and set of stables and can easily hold a permanent population of 10.  Currently there are 9 2nd level rangers and paladins led by a single 4th level cleric of Shelyn.  They are still relatively raw recruits but they watch over the canyon and report back regularly.  The fort itself can hold another 10 travellers for up to a week if necessary.  The temple is called the Singing Stones Fort because of an oddly shaped rock on the cliff above the temple that sings prettily when the wind blows just right.  There is a winch-lift available to help draw horses up into the temple.  The members who live here are insular and are openly friendly but inwardly suspicious of anyone who wishes to enter.  NOTE: The Law penalty does *not* apply to attempts to summon the guard as the location is so small that any attempt to call upon them will immediately result in everyone arriving.  Base Value: 50; Purchase Limit: 500gp; Items: 1d4 Minor Potions available to travelers free of charge if their need is dire.

Temple of the Beloved
Fortified Temple (8)
Corruption -5, Crime -5, Economy 0, Law +2, Lore +1, Society +5
This temple was discovered to be a lair of the Ivory Labyrinth who had come to populate a variety of temples throughout Sarkoris.  After the place had been cleared, it was mystically cleansed and mended by a number of servitors of Shelyn who wished to help bring beauty and quality to the Worldwound (see Demon's Heresy).  Since there's no real talk of any aftermath in the book but it seems like a celestial cleansing of the place should have some solid reason behind it, I've decided to populate it with agathions seeking to provide solace to tainted celestials and good fae.  Naturally this place will draw interest from Abyssal demons once it becomes known.  It is currently staffed by two Vulpinals who tend to the tainted, one Avoral who seeks out news, three Leonals for protection and two Silvanshee who can pass messages to the others.  They all serve Shelyn.  If the Weapon in the Rift is run, the two fiendish hound archons will arrive here for spiritual healing.  The place has two qualities: Holy Site and Celestial Bastion.  Base Value: 450; Purchase Limit: 2250gp; Items: 2d4 Minor; 1d4 Medium.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fantasy Politics - NPC Boons

NPCs can award more treasure than gold....
(Dragon Age: Inquisition)
Largely described in the Paizo Game Mastery Guide book, NPC boons are a non-treasure way of granting the characters some kind of benefit for helping an NPC with a little problem.  In a political quagmire of intrigue and eventfulness, these become all the more valuable.  While there are a variety of useful boons, the following are likely the most vital in a political situation, particularly when influential figures and wealthy recluses are avoiding or ignorant of the PCs cause.
  1. Letter of Recommendation
  2. Favourable Introduction
  3. Invitation to an Event
  4. Influences Another on Your Behalf
  5. Teaches Local Etiquette
  6. Describes Local Connections
  7. Provides Blackmail Material
  8. Assists in the Creation of a Scandal
  9. Causes a Scene as a Distraction
  10. Grants Minor, Landless Title
  11. Discounts an Item for the Cause
  12. Provides Appropriate Attire
  13. Provides Entertainment at an Event
  14. Functions as an Escort for VIP
  15. Provides Public Approval
  16. Conceals a Secret of Yours
  17. Provides Free Room and Board
  18. Provides Free Transportation
There's doubtless dozens more to choose from, so feel free to mention them in the comments box below.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Fantasy Politics - What's The Point?

Everyone has their own motivations.  Knowing them is half
the battle.  (Dragon Age: Inquisition)
There are many competing motivations you can throw into the ring to make things a tangle of intrigue.  Remember, too, that they needn't be very big motives.  Not everyone needs to want to be prince but the gathering itself must be beset by petty insecurities, grudges and genuine concerns unless the soiree is meant to be a breather and a rest stop where the characters can rest and relax for a bit.  Without difficulty, there is no obstacles to overcome and outside of very particular social scenes there should always be obstacles.

Remember, too, that generally these obstacles are most believable and interesting when they involve other people as it allows greater complexity than simply relying on the PCs to form every entanglement.  However, you must involve the PCs to make it matter so you need to find ways of having them drawn in ... mistaken identity, requests for advice, and simply being told about the situation and given the chance to intervene.  You can also add extra complexity to a player-driven plot through NPC motives.  It's one thing for a PC to try to win a gentleman's heart, it's another to find themselves with a rival to contend with and a protective mother ushering him away.

The list below is full of little motives.  Nothing major, though they can be the inspiration for something immense.

  1. Gain an official position by impressing the right person.
  2. Gain the ear of a key official with a business proposition.
  3. Advertise a new venture to see if anyone's interested.
  4. Display a garb, weapon or armour available for sale.
  5. Discreetly inquire into an object for purchase (i.e. tomes).
  6. Solidify business interests with burgeoning "friendship".
  7. Show you are agreeable to another's business venture.
  8. Undermine a rival's actions by spreading rumour.
  9. Arrange a scandal that would damage a rival's interests.
  10. Prove the superiority of your product.
  1. Win the heart (or at least continue the seduction) of a beloved.
  2. Prevent someone from winning the heart of their beloved.
  3. Be aggrieved at someone preventing your efforts.
  4. Rival someone for winning that heart.
  5. Outright competition for someone's heart (i.e. dare or bet).
  6. Show off to the crowd in the hopes of catching a particular eye.
  7. Style yourself in such a way that you draw hopeful suitors.
  8. Crush another's attempts to draw such attempts.
  9. Ruin another's reputation through wit or scandal.
  10. Win a key marital alliance through dance and wit.
  1. Over indulge in the refreshments.
  2. Drink to excess for an excuse to complain.
  3. Drink to excess for an excuse to flirt.
  4. Drink to excess to forget an incident.
  5. Indulge in hallucinogenics and have a wild party.
  6. Make a purchase of drugs or drink at the party.
  7. Spike the soiree's punch with drugs or liquor.
  8. Impress your guests with the soiree's fare.
  9. Impress your guests with your own sobriety.
  10. Dance and flirt extensively with everyone you can.
  1. Ruin another's reputation over a perceived slight.
  2. Humiliate another using cruel wit.
  3. Drive a wedge between two or more people.
  4. Sabotage the soiree through mild poison or property damage.
  5. Prove that someone (or some group) is blameworthy.
  6. Gain revenge against a rival by destroying their successes.
  7. Publicly reveal a scandal that deeply affects others.
  8. Challenge someone to a duel to first cut.
  9. Cruelly mistreat a subordinate for an annoyance.
  10. Verbal tirade against a disliked cause or person.
  1. Humiliate your inferiors to prove your superiority.
  2. Find an excuse to make another grovel for forgiveness.
  3. Convince another to describe your virtues.
  4. Win people over to supremacist ideals.
  5. Gather allies over frank discussions of your inferiors qualities.
  6. Demand someone show obeisance to you or another person.
  7. Remind others of your rank frequently.
  8. Make frequent demands of a subordinate to do things for you.
  9. Give backhanded compliments to "inferior" people.
  10. Publicly treat "inferior people" as children or pets.
  1. Assist another's efforts in winning a heart / business contract.
  2. Defend another's actions - however rash.
  3. Protect a loved one from humiliation or manipulation.
  4. Quietly uncover a scandalous situation involving your friend.
  5. Uncover a plot against your friend.
  6. Hide a scandal.
  7. Distract others from your friend's poor actions.
  8. Smooth over ruffled feathers for your friend.
  9. Have a deep and meaningful conversation in a quiet spot.
  10. Reach out to someone who is clearly having a rough time.
  1. Subtly give signals that you plan to kill yourself.
  2. Ignore conversation in favour of silence.
  3. Sit quietly in the corner and refuse to dance.
  4. Tell everyone of the oncoming doom that will crush them all.
  5. Quietly tear up on the balcony as you thing of past tragedy.
  6. Reproachful glances at the person who did you harm.
  7. Cause a scandal involving yourself to harm another.
  8. Sneak away during the festivities for a quiet moment alone.
  9. Request assistance for someone to help you flee.
  10. Find something to live for.
  1. Ensure a ritual or prayer is included in the festivities.
  2. Make a speech that furthers / includes your cause.
  3. Turn conversation over to your faith.
  4. Publicly stand against atrocity on religious grounds.
  5. Encourage (or heal) a schism between two sides of your faith.
  6. Publicly reject any other path than your own.
  7. Encourage and invite others to attend your meetings.
  8. Humiliate or disgrace members of a rival faith.
  9. Convince others that atrocity is the righteous path.
  10. Ensure everyone knows where you stand on an issue.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fantasy Politics aka Why Won't They Help?

Everyone has their own ideas of what matters.  (Dragon Age 3)
So I'm running the wonderful Wrath of the Righteous Pathfinder Campaign and now the characters are on the cusp of visiting Absalom to bring in some more assistance from the reluctant nobility and churches there.  The question on everyone's lips, much as could be expected in any fantasy game, is why won't everyone help?

There's a number of reasons / excuses for ambivalence.

The Worldwound is terrifying, but so is the threat of Climate Change and other massive environmental hazards in our world (such as the growing country-sized plastic spread in the middle of the ocean).  Even if you don't believe in Climate Change, it's a good analogy if you briefly consider it true.

Some folks with wealth and power have already donated.  A few have even stripped their holdings or volunteered their whole lives to deal with the problem.  These guys are tapped out and unavailable for further assistance because they're *already* there.

Naturally those who are currently uninvolved have their own reasons, such as:
  • "It's not true.  I've never seen it.  The weather (i.e. absence of demons) is fine where I am."
  • "The implications of Climate Change are far more localised and minor than anyone realises.  It will reach equilibrium."
  • "It's only a problem for folks who live in beach side properties.  It's an issue for other people to handle."
  • "I don't know anything about it.  What could I do even?  And no, don't tell me.  I don't want to know."
  • "It's too late so why bother?  Live it up while you've got the time.  In the end, all will be ash and ruins."
  • "We have no good options.  Why throw good money (and time) after bad?  Most options we have found either don't work or cause additional problems (i.e. CFCs were an environmental solution that damaged the ozone layer).  If there were a truly effective option, I'd change my mind."
  • "God(s) granted us this land to do with as we will and if the environment gets ruptured, than that is how it was meant to be.  In truth, God(s) will prevent anything too terrible happens unless its the promise apocalypse, in which case, it was meant to be.  To do anything about it would be to reject God(s)."
Some folks are willing to make a minor donation when asked and will cite that they were never really asked and never really knew there was a problem when someone does approach them.  These folks just don't want to lose everything they have in a desperate gamble to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem and they have other prosaic concerns that are nevertheless important to them.  Some of these concerns are equally righteous.
  • "Where will the money go?  Who will benefit?  I'm not going to donate to just about any profiteer who walks in through the door."
  • "What about my family?  I'll give you some money but I need to ensure my children get the best education, my grandparents get appropriate medical care, and my business interests stay afloat."
  • "What about my community?  I'm already donating my time and services to help people here."  This becomes exceptionally more valid in the case of the Worldwound: "If we send supplies and people to Mendev, there's a good chance they'll just die and we won't have anyone to help us here."
  • "Maybe we would be better placed spending our money on preparing ourselves against the inevitable rather than relying on implausible schemes in faraway places.  We won't be safe if all of our assets and resources are elsewhere."
  • "We have the hounds at our own door.  If we don't keep an eye on our own borders, we'll be invaded or worse."
  • "There are too many competing interests.  I might donate privately but if word gets out I'll be ruined.  Everyone around me sees belief in these troubles as a sign of madness and stupidity and I will find my life severely hampered."
  • "We have too many debts."
  • "We have already donated!  Twice!  And that's just to your cause.  We're weary of having this issue constantly dragged to our door."
  • "I know you need aid but I don't want my friends and family risking their lives on this venture."  (More apt for the Worldwound than for Climate Change, but still.)
So there you are.  The next time your players are desperately trying to gather assistance for something clearly important and dangerous, you can dip into this article to find reasons and excuses for why the matter falls to them.  Alternatively some of these beliefs are simply obstacles that can be overcome.  As an example, if they can make it fashionable to donate then the competing interests and scandal issues will be overcome.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Accidental Draft Publishing

Whoopsy.  Wasn't intending to publish the draft of those political figures just yet.  The next few weeks I'll be publishing articles on how to create political goals as well as how I'm using figures from the Pathfinder Absalom setting and weaving it into Wrath of the Righteous.  Since that campaign is full of so many combats and explorations, I thought it would be worthwhile swapping to a social-political game for a bit of a breather.  More information on that in the days to come!

And yes, I withdrew that half-done article.  I'll put it up later once it's actually done.

WoTR: Terendelev's Hoard

So for those who have been following my articles, or who have played Wrath of the Righteous themselves, Terendelev is an ancient silver dragon who was slain by a powerful balor in the very first adventure.  The adventure path doesn't ever take the PCs to her hoard but if you are expanding this already quite large adventure path (as I am) to include all the more rebuilding and refortifying (kingdom building rules) then her hoard could be of interest.

Terendelev was a much beloved Ancient Silver dragon, it seems only fitting that her hoard be equally splendid and filled with items either personally useful for her or too terrible to leave in mortal hands.  She has all evil and cursed items in a separate pile screened by special silvered salt that keeps its taint from touching the rest of her hoard.  Many of her items aren't evil, per se, but tend to be used for evil purposes or are simple valuables and so she felt right to keep them whereas any holy weapons would be turned over to the authorities to help combat the worldwound.  Anyway, I built this as a $300,000 treasure hoard under the expectation that most of it would be sold for Kingdom Building purposes.  I'd recommend reducing the hoard by quite a bit if your players aren't so generous as the campaign is already quite generous with equipment.  All of the following items are in Ultimate Equipment unless otherwise specified.

The evil and accursed pile contains of Beacon of True Faith (black flame in an ornate electrum torch), Talons of Lamashtu (as Talons of Leng these long gloves are tipped with nasty looking steel nails and is cursed so that it ceases to work unless a person is either killed per day or hideously disfigured), Vampiric Gloves (cursed so that the wearer's teeth become visible fangs and their skin becomes hideously pale providing a -3 Cha check penalty against good and neutral creatures), Mask of the Skull (pale white humanoid skull mask made from real bone), Stalker's Mask (human skin of a dozen different pigments have been tanned and stitched together to form this mask), Headband of Knucklebones (literal headband of bone tied with dried sinew), Phylactery of Negative Channeling (an ominous insectile headband of black carapace that glows a sickly green between the gaps), Headband of Seduction (actually a rakish tricorn hat), Dragonfoe Amulet (silver amulet showing a dragon punctured by a lance).

The other pile contains the Belt of Fallen Heroes (villainous shapes on the belt and villainous spirits though their tactical advice is simple pragmatism with no further effect), Perfect Golden Lute (something Terendelev loved to have her visitors play), Belt of Teeth (appears to be made from inter-locked fangs), Minotaur Belt (icon of Baphomet on a solid leather belt of Minotaur skin but no further effect), Nightmare Boots (black leather boots with a red fur trim in a high heel that miraculously doesn't cause problems to wear due to its innate magic), Poisoner's Gloves (long white satin tied with ribbons at the upper arm), Lesser Poisoner's Jacket (white cap-sleeved bolero jacket with gold ornamental trim in the imagery of Sarenrae), Cassock of the Clergy (Baphomet-style cassock with iconography stitched across the shoulders which also replaces the Bless spell with Bane), Headband of Intuition (light tracery of silver and tiny pearls that glows lightly), Maw of the Silver Wyrm (this mask is made from silver filigree in approximation of a dragon's face with quicksilver shapes over the eyes that nevertheless do not prevent vision), 3 Shackles of Compliance (plain steel manacles), 3 Manacles of Cooperation (slight glow between the links), and a pair of Shackles of Durance Vile (image of Baphomet on each wrist cuff lined with a red glow).

Place something special in center position.  In my case, against one wall hung with ornate (300gp each) tapestries, sits a small shrine upon which lie folded a Monk's Robe in Shelyn colours with a gap on the wall where another flag can be placed (i.e. Shelyn flag) and if that is done then the Jawbone relic from the Wrath of the Righteous Adventure Path appears on top of the robe.
There is no gold, silver and copper here nor even beautiful works of art beyond the tapestries as Terendelev sacrificed it all to help the crusade and assist Drezen.  In exchange, she was given a hoard of great value to guard ... even if some of it was contaminated in thought if not in power.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Demon's Heresy Random Encounter Table

There are a few random encounter tables for the Worldwound but I feel that they are missing that certain something.  The Abyss should make its presence felt and though the actual Worldwound setting book introduces weather effects (which I roll per days travel) and foraging diseases (hardly a problem once you can get a ring of sustenance), the encounters themselves don't take the environment as much into consideration.  I would also recommend that you re-roll if the dice land on the same random encounter to ensure that things feel fresh for your players.  So without further ado, here are some additional styles of encounters.

01-02 Heavy Gravity (halve carrying capacity, -2 acrobatics, climb, ride, swim, falls deal damage in 1d10s rather than 1d6s) + Roll Again
03-04 Light Gravity (double carrying capacity, +2 attack, acrobatic and ride checks, double weapon range, 1d4s instead of 1d6s for falling damage, double leaping distances) + Roll Again
05-06 Noticeable Erratic Time (day may pass in minutes then a second may take hours) + Roll Again
07-08 Mildly Chaotic Evil-Aligned (-2 penalty to Charisma checks for non-evil and/or non-chaotic creatures; stacks with itself) + Roll Again
09-10 Strongly Chaotic Evil-Aligned (-2 penalty to Intelligence-, Wisdom-, Charisma checks for non-evil and/or non-chaotic creatures; stacks with itself) + Roll Again
11-12 Enhanced Magic (Spells and spell-like abilities with the chaotic or evil descriptor count as if two caster levels higher) + Roll Again
13-14 Impeded Magic (Spells and spell-like abilities with the lawful or good descriptor are subject to a concentration check DC 20 + spell level) + Roll Again
15-16 Lava flows in area (15ft movement per round, DC 20 Reflex save when crossing or be engulfed in the lava) + Roll Again
17-18 Lava Bombs erupt and hit in a 30-foot radius explosion (roll 1d4 - on an even number, DC 15 Reflex save or take 4d6 points of damage; on an odd number, DC 20 Reflex save of take 12d6 damage).  Alternatively a steaming geyser can do the same through a sudden eruption.
19-20 Poisonous Gas - 1d6 Con damage if inhaled (Fort Save 15 negates, DC increases by 1 per previous save).  If visible, impairs vision like heavy smoke, flows low across the ground.  Roll Again.
21-25 2 Incubi Level 2 Rangers CR 8 (Searching for Arushalae)
26-32 Paladin Rider CR 8 (see Sword of Valor, Bestiary 67 and NPC Codex 114)
33-38 1 kithangian CR 9 Worldwound 47 (see below)
39-43 1d4 spectres CR 9 Bestiary 256 in a narrow (4 foot wide) rift
44-49 1d8 thoxels CR 9 See page 86 Sword of Valor
50-55 Demon and the Dead CR 9 See page 85 Demon's Heresy
56-60 1 kithangian + Urannag CR 10 Bestiary 2, p.265 (see below)
61-67 1d10 Abrikandilu Barbarian 3 CR 10 See Weapon in the Rift PFS (Searching for Arushalae)
68-72 Foul Coven CR 10 See page 85 Demon's Heresy
73-77 1d4 warped ones CR 10 Worldwound 62 which leave a cave to reach them (see below)
78-84 1 young red dragon CR 10 Bestiary 98 (see below)
85-87 1 carnivorous crystal CR 11 Bestiary 3 page 45 is embedded into a natural bridge over a narrow lava creek.
88-91 1 The Plagued One CR 11 See page 85 Demon's Heresy
92-95 1 shachath CR 11 See page 84 of the Demon's Heresy
96-98 1d4 fallen CR 12 See page 90 of the Demon's Heresy (see below)
99-100 Mothers of Chaos CR 12 See page 85 Demon's Heresy

The Fallen Encounter
Alfie encountered two Fallen Crusaders by the shores of the lake though their bodies were back in the town he had just cleared whose crypt belonged to his forefathers.  They didn't know precisely where their bones lay but stated that a local haunting recalled the knowledge.  So he had to go and sit on that chair and choose to fail the initial save so that he could be drawn into a hallucination of how the end of the world looked to one grandma sitting on her chair.  He saw where those two crusaders fell and could then dig them up and put them in the crypt.  Doing so unleashed a Swarm of XXX from the otherwise buried well who were formed from those dead Sarkorians.

Kithangian Encounter
These demons are grotesque and truly horrific entities that represent bestiality as much as anything else therefore build up to this event by showing its influence on the world around them.  In my case, I had a horse giving birth to winged and fanged foals that then tried to eat her and then a fiendish two-headed snake that fought itself until it managed to poison itself.  Remember, too, that it can hide as an animal (in this case, a medium desert scorpion) but can revert to its true form as a readied action.

Kithangian Plus Urannag
This works all the better after they have encountered the Kithangian alone as the sight of its action will likely cause the players to become heedless in their hate.  Place the Urannag device in the sand between them and the Kithangian and have the demon taunt them to approach.

Warped Ones
These poor souls once took shelter within a little cave that still contains a tear stained diary written in dwarven that charts their troubles.  They came in here to escape a terrible rift storm but didn't see the pulsing, throbbing vortex open up in a corner that irradiated them with its essence until they died.  PCs may collapse the cave or cast appropriate spells but they must make a Fortitude DC 20 save to avoid losing 1 constitution per round if they approach within ten feet of the vortex and must make a Fortitude DC 25 to avoid losing 1d6 con and succumbing to madness (additional save as with the Insanity spell - Psychosis is always the result) if they touch it.

Young Red Dragon (Exzennikts)
The dragon just wants to talk as it has been promised amazing treasures should it succeed in its quest to locate Arushalae.  It is currently wearing a special paint that makes its scales look gold (Perception check DC 30 to notice chromatic red gaps).  It is angry and aggressive as all red dragons are but it hasn't survived this long by being overly rash.  It is looking for a demoness - will describe Arushalae - and will describe her as an awful monster that needs to be delivered to him.  He will direct the PCs to a particular meeting ground (but not his hoard).  He will then launch off to seek her out again.  The local demons either all know his tricks or can't fly up to reach him.  If the PCs mention the Woundwyrm, he will turn canny as he knows the Woundwyrm will slay him if it gets the chance.  He may form a temporary alliance to defeat the Woundwyrm (keeping himself safe) and even tracking down Arushalae if he thinks he can get away with it but if they take more than 1d4 days they will need to succeed on Diplomacy checks to prevent him from flying off in disgust.  He won't assist them in fighting powerful demons, claiming past trauma, but will happily assist in slaying weaker ones as he knows he'll be forgiven if he succeeds with finding her.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Slight Detour and Tala Monastery (Pathfinder - Wrath of the Righteous)

Sometimes you need a break from sword swinging action and you just want to give your players (or in my case, a solo player) a bit of a taste of something new.  So one fair day during Demon's Heresy, I had Commander Irabeth suggest that Alfy take his very potent sword to somewhere larger and sell it for the kind of dough they need to refurbish the castle. 

That idea gained traction with the other party NPCs (barbarian Jestak wants a holiday), and soon they were planning to take Asmean (half-Invidiak Expert 1 whose good penances have inadvertently shifted him to temporary neutrality and who had been under the care of the high level witch in Drezen) and the rest of the party to pop over to Absalom by calling upon Pathfinder resources in Nerosyan.  Or at least, trying to do so.

Naturally nothing is ever simple, and after a confrontation with Commander Fraton (yep, *that* Fraton for all ye who have read The Worldwound Gambit) whereby he tried to convince Alfy to sterilise the tieflings rather than abide their taint and possibility of slaying women in childbirth (demoralising points, but ones Alfy brushed off), the party were teleported to Nerosyan.

Asmean used Terendelev's scale to look human.  Alfy used Disguise Self.  Lex used her collar of change self to make her look again like an adolescent elf.  They found themselves in a city under siege but eventually made their way to Starrise Spire.  It took some fighting through a variety of demons (largely handwaived) but eventually they made it and the sole occupant of the Pathfinder Lodge stated he'd get them to Absalom if they helped out the Pathfinders first with a little mission.  He let them stay in a large room that was mostly swimming pool and bunks where time flowed more quickly (as opposed to the world outside) so that they could replenish their spells.

Naturally Lestak took the opportunity to proposition Alfy.  Again.  Even Lestak wasn't brave enough to proposition the half-Invidiak.

Anyway, so they left Asmean in the tower to read some books with the nice wizard (hoping his envy won't get the better of him and make him attack anyone but being a weak little level 1 has its perks), and were teleported to Gundrun to meet with Venture-Captain Jorsal.  We played through the "Weapons in the Rift" Pathfinder Society adventure and he even released the fiendish CN hound archons (whom he will later find in Drezen since they have to atone before being allowed back among the ranks).

Once that was done, he returned only for Venture Captain Jorsal to point out that the Pathfinder Society were planning a fundraising dinner (aka "The Hellknight's Feast" Pathfinder Society adventure) but that visiting Absalom with a wealth of items to sell / auction would be useful.  How to get enough items?  Why, locate Terendelev's hoard, of course!  She would naturally want her hoard to go toward the efforts of the Worldwound due to her death.

Where to find her hoard?  Well, she was known to visit the Tala Monastery, of course.  (See The Worldwound Gambit novel or google around for its history in Mendev).

So they are teleported to Kenabres (via a Teleportation Circle) to the basement of a small Pathfinder holding and given a code phrase that was answered incorrectly by the first person they see and whom they soon realise is an Invidiak in possession of a Pathfinder.  A mixture of grapple, Protection from Evil and Arrow of Law (which wouldn't harm the lawful Pathfinder) got her depossessed and the Invidiak destroyed.

It turns out that Venture Captain Thurl had called her out to a dangerous mission that led to her possession and that she was made to give sleeping draughts to the other Pathfinders in the house so that they could all be possessed that night by more Invidiaks.  The group then returned via Teleportation Circle to report in to Venture Captain Jorsal who directed them to Thurl's personal quarters in the basement of the tower (see "The Traitor's Lodge" Pathfinder Society scenario).  They make their way through a modified version of that scenario and convince a modified version of the madwoman to assist them (after manacling her and dropping a failed smite on her).

The madwoman, still nameless to them, turned out to be a rogue who had broken into the Tala Monastery before (actually the reason why Thurl took her in my version).  She could get them in to the monastery again.

They return to Kenabres and are given magical mounts which helps them make their way to the Tala Monastery.  They have to wait until dawn before the madwoman can find where the light hits right so that she can dig open a hidden trapdoor.  They enter a series of magically preservative cellars, a few of them cooled by ice elementals that also function as traps for the unwary.

Basically it went beer cellar, elemental trapped door, ramped series of alcoves containing various divisions of fish and animals, dual portcullis landing whose portcullis contained an Open / Close haunt that slammed it shut (almost on top of Eliska) and trapped Eliska and Alfy in the same room as a revenant covered in bloody pustules (soon identified as the Blood Veil from "Curse of the Crimson Throne" adventure path).  They defeated the revenant, moved through the second portcullis, and found a variety of bodies laid out across the floor.

Checking one for evidence of the disease, released a "Paralysis" haunt combined with a "Stench" effect as Eliska saw the corpse reach out and grab her wrist, shortly before she started exuding a terrible smell.  Lex destroyed all the diseased bodies after that through the use of her negative energy breath weapon (which can affect undead and therefore hopefully disease itself).

They open another elemental trapped door (thus far springing no traps) and find themselves surrounded by an Obscuring Fog trap as ghosts of the previous inhabitants are seen to run perpetually down the stairs as though to try to get into the basements.  A pile of bloody and desperate bodies are found on the floor by the door.  They head upstairs and both Lestak and Alfy are beset by two Halfling ghosts who each leap on their backs, putting them under the effects of a Slow spell, with an accompanying sensation like they are being coaxed into the centre of the room where two Halfling corpses lie dead.

They do go over there (hearing a Suggestion Haunt whisper for them to stay the night, though they shake that off) and find a Dawnflowers Light and a spellbook containing a bard and wizard spell that makes summoning increasing difficult, aka Anti-Summoning Shield, and a musical sheet that described a bardic spell that nullifies telepathy, aka Telepathic Censor (see Demonslayer's Guide).  Alfy learned the two spells (had a few bardic spell gaps), took the lantern, and they moved on to the rearmost chambers rather than go immediately upstairs.

The first corridor had a spike trap, rusted, but spikes could be vaguely seen dripping blood from the walls (Phantom Trap Haunt with added peril of Blood Veil infection due to a modified Contagion Haunt attachment) but the trap is destroyed through some curative magic.  They find the rooms have various beds attached and they fight a couple more revenants while battered by a Solid Fog spell (again the image of ghosts flitting here and there).

Finally they reach a large dining area where a Bastion Banner to Shelyn flutters over the fireplace.  There were three haunts at the fireplace, the first being a Suggestion to light the fire which would lead to a trail of other haunts (see Haunts for Houses 3rd party supplement), but Alfy shrugs that one off.  As he gets too close to the fireplace, a female ghostly image (another haunt) appears and splits black blood at him, which draws the ire of two unique allips (using the stats from The Weapon in the Rift) who promptly tear Alfy's Wisdom down to 5.  Once defeated, Alfy touches the mantle as he grabs the banner and promptly fails his save against an Insanity haunt that makes him Phobic about demons.

Cautious about expending their Restoration potions and unsure about exactly what happened to Alfy, other than that he got touched a lot by the allips, Eliska tried to simply get him to rest but not before he kissed her, trapped her in a hug, and said that she was pretty.  She didn't pull away (being very much in love with him, though due to her stoic Nidalese nature he is entirely unaware of this) but did convince him to rest a bit until his nightmares woke him up again and she gave him the restoration potion that restored his senses (leaving him feeling very embarrassed).

The rest of the place was relatively easy to explore and they found a bunch of Yath worshippers (who'd gone mad from their dreams) dead from starvation in the old Abbesses bedroom (where they had been locked by the saner inhabitants until such time as a cure could be found).  Three circular orbs (imperfect as they were) had been removed from a nearby dresser (saturated with the hauntings' might).

They located a barrel of Abjurant Salt, barrel of Grave Salt and two barrels of Tala Oil (latter is pretty much akin to protection from evil with a little protection from mind control thrown in that lasts for 6 hours a dab).

They also find notes on Terendelev's potential hoard in another desk which they take to mean a certain waterfall along a tributary in Mendev of the West Sellen River (based off the Silver Dragon's hoard in Dragon's Unleashed).  They also find a lecture list in the main lecture hall that mentioned the name of a new visitor to the monastery they had allowed in for his impressive medical knowledge - a man named Rolth (also from the Curse of the Crimson Throne).

I'm using a few references to the Curse of the Crimson Throne because I have those books in hard cover (therefore easy and cost effective to re-use) and because the books are damn creepy.  Rolth has been resurrected (as has Fraton) and was given the job of corrupting the orbs and removing those who could make the Tala Salve (though he left a few barrels of it behind, not realising what it was).

Terendelev's hoard will be protected by a Hezrou and a Gibrileth demon rather than the dark fey found in the Dragon's Unleashed version, who is hoping to befoul the waters running downstream.  It's a bit too much for the PCs to take on at once though so they will need to use cunning, stealth and guile -- and likely an invisibility potion or two -- before heading into the dragon's head entrance (in this case, it is trapped with a Holy Word from a 14th level caster).  The trap resets itself each day and it's the main reason why the first demons who came to try to re-take the hoard disappeared.  Once Yath was destroyed, the main person with information on the hoard also died, therefore none of the other demons are aware of it.

Once the PCs get inside, they'll have no further trouble as no one else has disturbed the hoard.  The hoard contains much of the listed items in the book but there will also be some evil items and nasty statuettes that she claimed but couldn't -- or wouldn't -- destroy.  Since much of her wealth was tied up in Mendevian interests, she could mostly keep those items that either wouldn't sell or wouldn't sell well.  Of course, with a Purity Forge, the evil magics can at least be swapped to something worthwhile.

Friday, December 12, 2014

LARP Structure aka What Do We Do Exactly?

One of my chief concerns with the Dark Before Dawn LARP was whether there would be enough for the players to do.  In a 6 1/2 hour game you really want to make sure that no one's bored, or at least, that they're not bored for long.  Naturally a particularly social bunch eager to explore their character's psychological vulnerabilities could take any LARP pitch and roll with it for even ten or more hours, but most players need a little more structure than that.

My first consideration involved the characters' goals.  Give them goals that tie in with each other and suggest alliances, rivalries, and enemies, which were straightforward enough to understand but complex enough to intrigue.  The larger the web, the more entertaining these goals can be, but with a small group of 11 players I guessed that these goals would give them 2 - 3 hours worth of entertainment, tops.

In reality these goals became a subtle backdrop to the character's actions rather than holding star position - likely due to the possessions and mysterious location.  The goals did entertain, at least, but they didn't chew up time for long.  This was always a possibility, just because you give someone an enemy doesn't mean they won't put it aside for now and focus on what's in front of them, especially if there's no obvious and subtle way to deal with them otherwise.

My second consideration was to involve a mystery for the characters to solve.  They were in an unusual place.  They all disagreed on the exact date.  They didn't remember arriving at this location and had expected to walk in elsewhere.  This consideration took up an hour or two of actual game-time, interwoven throughout the six, as people queried each other for further knowledge and poked the various props about the place.  I discovered that mysteries were pretty unbalanced ... they gained weight as the game progressed and the little hints started tumbling together into an avalanche.  It certainly worked a treat and coloured everything else but it would have been pretty bare on its own.

My third consideration was to throw in some antagonists for the characters to butt heads against.  Initially I was going to draft in some cast but since the game attracted far fewer players than expected, I went back to basics and instead asked a few of the players if they wouldn't mind being possessed for a bit.  Since I didn't want them to lose their characters, and since relying on combat would be a bit of a drag, I threw in several exorcisms about the place that they could theoretically use and made it so that each exorcism targeted one person and that if the wrong person was picked, the Strix would become immune to that technique. 

I also made it so that the first two possession victims would be the ones with the necessary skills to use two of those forms of exorcism.  This ate up the lion's share of four hours, especially when the first possession victim took so long to dispel.  The third, ironically enough, was immediately exorcised on a whim by a character who didn't realise that the technique would lose its potency if performed on the wrong person.

My final consideration was the capstone plot ... everyone needed to cast their vote for one entity or another, or abstain completely.  This took up the last 30 - 45 minutes.

All told, we had just enough structure and plot to keep 11 people occupied for all but 15 minutes of the game (the bit shortly before the ending plot struck).

Naturally this was in part due to the low number of players, the mystery set up which tweaked characters to focus on solving puzzles (i.e. possessions) and the way external threats tend to put a dampener of internal politics and intrigue.  Part of it is doubtless due to local style and the desires of the various players involved, but it does make you think.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sometimes LARPs Do Need Pre-Planned Endings

Chess will always provide some distraction in a game.
As with all things, there are a multitude of recommendations of how various events should, and should not, be run.  One pearl of wisdom is that LARP designers should never, ever, ever design an ending for the game.  Now depending on how you define the word ending, this is *mostly* true. 

There are very few LARPs that can benefit from an utterly pre-generated "ending" where everything is set in stone.  It *can* work, so long as the ending is a final curtain on a one shot that resonates strongly with the players ... such as if the apocalypse LARP is guaranteed to end with the location falling to zombies or where the game ends with the prisoners assist those soldiers arriving to free the prison camp from the enemy.

So it *can* work, and work brilliantly, but generally you want a looser *ending* than that.  Such an ending has a real sense of resolution, has been pre-planned, but must allow a meaningful choice to be made and have room for variation.

For awhile I sputtered and worried over the ending.  How to cap it all off?  My initial plans had 30 players whose chaos might be enough to keep the game running smoothly and whose antics might finally form into a suitable resolution.  But 11 players?  In a dice-based LARP where you can't simply throw in a final combat and expect excitement?  (Unless your idea of excitement involves a dozen players standing around and waiting for their turn to roll a dice.)

So I went back to basics and tried to figure out what an ending was.  The law of rising tension meant the most tension should come at the end which is what made me think of playing an NPC briefly as I can be quite strident and pull tension along.  Of course, just having an NPC rock up wouldn't be enough.  It had to affect the entire gathering so that no one missed out.  It also needed to raise the stakes above previous situations so I looked at a city-wide effect.  It should be tied into the prior sub-plots and thus I made it touch on Dr. Jonathon Taylor's rituals, its results, and the subsequent loss of Nurse Cassandra to the city's infrastructure.  Finally it needed player involvement.

And that was the kicker.  Any puzzle would necessarily require only a few players input.  Even a complex one could theoretically be solved by a couple people and there'd doubtless be a few who wouldn't know what to do even if there were a dozen pieces.  Plus I couldn't think up a good puzzle.

Combat, as mentioned beforehand, can be a real drag in a game and while it adds necessary spice even in dice LARPs, it's generally not suitable for an ending unless masterfully handled with several miniature  battles and I didn't have time to brief enough Floor GMs for that.

So I went back to the even more fundamental basics and realised that in the end games are all about the choices we make.  That's why combat needs so many rules to be exciting and why in a game with quick resolutions (or fewer players like in tabletop) it can be exciting - high stakes, multiple decisions to make.  So if games are all about choice, maybe that's all I needed, one big choice with huge stakes that would affect everyone and where everyone could be involved by getting their own choice.

And so my Dark Before Dawn one shot, the LARP ended with an angel arriving at the game with a box of rune-inscribed stones.  She gave a little speech regarding the merits of her god, contradicted by the pleading requests of a ghost who spoke via written text on a data projector, and bid each person take a stone and choose to set their will to either banishing the ghost from the machine (and potentially destroying her) and giving control to an alien God OR supporting the usurper and keeping the machine away from God.  She finally described it as a choice between Order and Chaos, which is bound to resolve in people even if they don't care much for either NPC.

(On an aside, they would choose by putting the stone in either an antique soap box that had previously contained an abjuration amulet or a velvet lined carved box that had previously contained phosphorous shotgun shells, so that involved some added metaphor.)

The third option, where the characters chose neither side, was valid though wouldn't weigh as strongly as those who voted in one direction or the other.  No matter what the players did, the angel wouldn't commit violence.  It wouldn't supernaturally compel them.  And once it had spoken, it retained the same position (a half bow) until the assigned ten minutes were up and stayed silent unless explicitly questioned.

So this was a pre-planned event.  No matter what the players did during the game, the angel would arrive and offer the choice.  The players had flexibility within how they engaged in that time but they couldn't gain more time and they couldn't vote for, say, power over the device to be transferred to one of their own.

The one piece of last-minute flex involved the elder occultist banishing the angel after a few votes had been cast and once everyone had a chance to discuss the matters among themselves.  The player kindly floated the idea past me first, got my ideas on what might work and how, then brilliantly roleplayed it after those who had an opinion had voted and those who were torn had either chosen to abstain or were moving toward that choice.  Therefore that *change* was more of a capstone piece to the event than a literal change to the ending.

Not only did this final choice work, it worked well, and if I had simply allowed the players to interact for those several hours with nothing to mark an ending, the LARP would have fared quite poorly indeed.  About ten to fifteen minutes prior to the ending events, the players ran out of plot, finished their individual goals and were left to discuss the metaphysics of the game world - something that excluded and confused the new players who were unfamiliar with the World of Darkness or who didn't control occultist characters. 

An additional thirty minutes of such conversation would have been a big let down and left a bad taste of confusion, helplessness and a sense of failure as the players contemplated whether there was something they *should* be doing.

The ending plot directed some of that conversation when it was realised, though until the angel walked through there was still some confusion.  Once it was all outlined and placed in front of them, people could finally have a final decision to sink their teeth into and once that decision was done they could face the final transition (leaving the hall via the back exit) with a sense of purpose and trepidation.

After all, the campaign LARP will deal with the fall out of their decision to largely abstain from the Choice and chart their own destinies -- with a slight weighting toward leaving Nurse Cassandra in the machine.

NOTE: I am *not* saying that all LARPs need ending events.  There are no absolute rules in LARPs so long as everyone has fun.  I had an 11-person investigative LARP in the adventure style so I needed it more than most.  My initial plans had a 30-person LARP which would have needed either more time for a "Choice" ending *or* could have resolved well simply by throwing another football for them to fight over in the ring whose resolution would have counted.  Heck, some political LARPs work just fine with people struggling over positions until the timer runs out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Game Translation: This War of Mine

Generally its a rare game that goes the full simulationist / slice of life route.  The grand majority of games are plotted.  There is some major conflict that you need to weave your way through, defeating a succession of obstacles of increasing drama and tension to defeat some Big Bad (or more rarely to merely survive and escape).  Therefore I have little experience, but loads of ideas, for how to accomplish This War of Mine through a roleplaying lens format.

In This War of Mine you don't play elite soldiers out to cleanse the city nor do you play rebels seeking to overthrow the government.  You're not even a single Action Hero Father trying to rescue your kids.  You could well be an old teacher, handyman, and sneaky girl from the wrong side of town.

You also don't shoot up bad guys unless you want to risk an easy road to death.  Instead you sneak through abandoned (and not-so-abandoned) locales picking up spare parts so you can spend your daytimes constructing various appliances, gardens, and water purifiers to allow you and your friends to survive a few days while occasionally thugs and desperate civilians make armed raids on your home.

It's a different sort of game.  It's a touch depressing.  And it would make for a very interesting roleplaying game.

If you have Narrativist players, then you probably already  know how you can run this.  You could simply focus on the relationships with some moments of rising tension, perhaps randomly drawn from a deck of cards to represent what is heard on the radio or what occurs during the night or on scavenging runs as a launch pad for ideas.  Players could then interject with what they think would be most entertaining - "I've caught a cold...."  "A sniper wings me...."

Simply watching the various characters interact as things slowly get worse and they struggle to put together enough to make it through the war could be perfectly entertaining for one or more sessions with the right crowd, but if you're a full Narrativist who have played a number of games in this style you probably don't need much advice on that front and as I've never run that sort of game I'm really not in the position to advice you on it.

So what if you're used to running the more common sorts of games with a GM in full control of the world around player controlled characters used to dealing with GM created obstacles while interacting with each other and NPCs in character?

Well you'll need to make sure that everyone plays pretty low-powered and ordinary characters.  So think small, think weak, think hopelessly out-gunned just like if the average office worker suddenly had to survive in an urban environment without proper stores.  Ensure the rules work with that and be sure the players are open to it.

You can play "This War of Mine" with more capable folks, say ex-emergency services personnel, and you can play the setting within a different style - even slice of life it with emergency services dealing with call outs within a besieged city but as that doesn't focus on the style of the videogame, just the setting, we won't be looking at that.  So make sure the players are onboard with creating utterly normal people with one particular specialty - good cook, good craftsman, etc.  I'd recommend each player make three such characters so that they can replace them quickly.

Ensure that wounds won't heal without medical attention and that sicknesses get progressively worse without warmth, food and rest.  When the characters get too hungry, too sick, too wounded or too tired, their movement speeds should be cut to a walk and then a stagger.  Every effort should take them longer and they should no longer be much use scavenging.

As with any good sandbox game you could get a map showing identified locations which they can travel and some basic rumours about them.  Danger levels, likely lootables, and possible NPCs should all be described.  You could even make it a bit of a hex crawl if you like by allowing PCs to spend a night in different blocks looking for places that haven't been revealed to them yet.

Unless you're willing to have a full group traipsing about to every location (increasing the chances of a TPK and reducing the sense of desperation), you'd need to keep the missions themselves quite short and sharp to allow players to guiltlessly split the party.  Ten to fifteen minutes per supply run should generally be enough.  Twenty to thirty if everyone seems enraptured.  Let the players know that they will need to split the party in advance so that they can protect their homes in case of looters.

I'd use a randomised system - like dice or card draws - to decide whether they're attacked.  You can either roleplay the attack or resolve it with dice or simply matching the defences against the attacker's skill and desperation, if you like.

Be mindful the PCs may crave revenge after a successful raid on them.
Inventory management is important as well in any game based on scavenging.  Firstly you'll need to determine the build phases - what they can build and what they need for it - then you can decide what they find.  You could do this board game style by putting tokens on a map and making them navigate the location or you could just decide it on the fly.  It's up to you.

During the build phase, you need to decide how many items they can build and if time will factor into it or simply what they have in their inventory.  Bear in mind how long you want it to take for them to purify water or grow crops.  You won't want this to occur in real-time as it would be very dull to have to get through fourteen days to make things happen so maybe have each phase represent a week of activities.

What they build should also have meaning during the gameplay and roleplay parts as well.  You could assign bonuses or penalties depending on what they have but other than slowing the PCs down when things get too rough I would focus on adding roleplaying pressures.  Describe the aches and pains of sleeping poorly ... describe the taste of dog food when they lack vegetables for soup ... describe the pangs of thirst ... describe the aching cold ... describe a day spent with nothing to read and nothing to do ... describe the maddening lack of information on how things are progressing for lack of a radio.  Each day, no matter what they have got and what they have recently built, describe what they lack and make it ache.

When the characters don't eat, simply progress them through categories that are easy to understand.  Slightly Hungry.  Hungry.  Starving.  Starving.  Dead.  Same thing with a lack of sleep or creeping sadness.  Reinforce the sensations of it most of all by describing the physical issues within each problem.  That will be the most galvanising thing for the players. 

When it gets cold, you could make one of them them draw from five cards to see if they get sick - increase the number of illness cards if they are exhausted, starving or if the temperature has gotten quite low.

So that it doesn't just become a depressing spiral of angst, ensure that there are some moments of levity as well.  People request for help and offer it.  People repay their debts when the PCs help them out.  Some of the locations are open to trade.  Some are robbed.  Some are cruel.  Most are just trying to survive.

Anyway, a campaign based around This War of Mine or including elements of it, should appeal to -

Communicators who find personal interaction and psychological horror interesting may enjoy it quite a bit though anyone who's main desire is for politics may find it sorely lacking unless they can affect alliances and recruit NPCs over to their way of thinking.

Explorers may enjoy the voyeuristic thrill of poking through people's homes and businesses while on scavenging missions so play it up and ensure little secrets are found here and there.  Keep it lively and keep the descriptions full of unqiue moments.

Action Heroes will stick a target on some of the bad guys and want their revenge.  If they succeed, they will love it.  If they fail, or fail too often, they will become frustrated.  They may be able to do it for a session as a favour to other players but this is not a good game for them long-term.

Tacticians will find it irritating because there's no win condition other than base survival.  Every decision they make is as bad as it is good.  Oh you built a cage to trap animals?  Well now we don't have a heater ... or a vegetable garden ... or an upgraded machine shop.  Some may enjoy this, plenty won't.

Investigators won't have much in the way of questions to solve and cases to follow.  They, like the action heroes and tacticians, could enjoy the setting but not the style of This War of Mine.  They may well find it dull.

So if you want to check out the trailer, you can find it here.

For the next Game Translation (which will be in a fortnight's time), you have a choice of these: Wastelanders 2, Wolfenstein, Dead Space, or Vampire: the Masquerade (Bloodlines).

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

How The LARP Went

When I initially planned my LARP back in January, my plans revolved around an expectation of between 25 - 35 players.  I don't know why I was so ambitious.  I suppose because I knew I had a ridiculous amount of both interactive and decorative elements and I knew that hundreds of folks in my home city have LARPed before over the years.  If they had gone to LARPs that had fewer (sometimes even no) props, phys-reps and interactive elements that you could touch and discover, surely they would be eager to come along to my LARP simply to bathe in the ambiance if nothing else.

No such luck.  Whether due to LARPer burnout or a lack of interest in vampire, or the shortcomings of free advertising, we ended up having only 12 tickets purchased.

Or should I say, loads of luck ... because this ended up being a really awesome LARP and it could only have happened with a small but wickedly awesome bunch of LARPers, first timers and experienced.

Sometimes things work out for the best when they don't go according to plan.  After all, a 30 player adventure-style game is difficult indeed, especially when you're using dice and therefore going more down the path of murder mystery style clues than boffer weapons and swinging traps.

Still the realisation that I had fewer players meant I couldn't put all my reliance on simply giving a bunch of players opposing goals and letting them "have at each other" for 6 1/2 hours.  A dozen players can easily make amends or choose to quietly hold a grudge after a couple hours.  While thirty folks will get in each other's way often enough to make peace (or at least a new status quo) hard to grasp, a dozen individuals will get enough time to resolve their differences if they need to.

And yes, this is a vampire game, but without crazy levels of escalation, you also run out of things to do.  There's only so many folks you can give a rumour to and so many ears to whisper "Don't trust him" in before you've done it all.

So I needed a plot framework *and* I needed a capstone ending. 

And I only realised I needed these things two weeks before the LARP began.

Naturally I only discovered what the framework would be on the Monday before game and I only discovered the ending on Tuesday.  And yes, yes, I've heard that you don't need to come up with endings in LARPs because the players will all mystically come to a fitting conclusion that is mutually satisfactory and needs no GM involvement and HOGWASH I say.  Pure hogwash.

Creating a game with no ending in mind works for *some* LARPs but not for *all* LARPs and it certainly would've rung a death knell for this game which was otherwise great but really needed something to keep it from trailing off into speculation and confusion.  But I'll discuss that more tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Worthy Link: Play-by-Post

In place of reading more stuff from me for the week, check out this awesome Paizo Thread on running a decent Play-by-Post!

LARP Preparation Trumps Game Translation

All right, I admit it, I was wrong.  You won't be getting a Game Translation this week as I'm still too busy preparing for my LARP.  What with a player meet up yesterday, GM meet up tomorrow, and player meet up on Friday evening -- and full time work every day but Wednesday (a half day), I'm a little flat out getting everything re-jigged for Saturday.

Luckily all of my research into various LARPs has finally paid off as I not only have a pretty good framework to keep people thoroughly occupied but I also have an ending.  A real bona fide ending!  And I don't mean an "outro" where the GM narrates a conclusion which can be great fun but always functions more of an epilogue than an ending due to player passivity.  I mean something the players can do which involves real dramatic tension!

This is a major relief for me because if you have played dice LARPs before where you use randomised rolls (or card draws or whatever) to settle combat, you can't just have a hoard kick in the door and up tension that way.  I mean, you *could* but unless the combat is over quickly or involves a small number of players (doable with 12, I suppose) it often turns into a grind that can still make for a satisfying conclusion but it's not something I would want to rely on with *this* game.

On the other hand, generally you can't just throw a final puzzle into the mix (few players involved) and social wrangling can work but you need a sizable cast (which would go against the theme of this session) so instead I went with the core definition of player interactivity.

Decision making.

In the end, everything (even combat, especially *interesting* combat) boils down to making meaningful decisions.  So why not make that the main attraction?  Strip it to its core and let the players decide something that truly matters.  Naturally spending a full 6 1/2 hours making one decision is hard to pull off outside of Nordic LARP so I have another plot line that is meaningful and adds shading to the final decision but isn't wrapped up in it per se.

With a real ending, everything is falling into place but it needs a little extra work to ensure that it has the support it needs for the players to make a real decision on the matter.

More details to come once the game is done!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Vampire LARP ... eep

So my first big vampire LARP as part of the Adelaide Roleplaying Community Incorporated is due to kick off this Saturday.  I'm kinda nervous.  It was initially slated to run with 30 people so all I had to do was ensure we had enough Floor GMs and Assistant GMs.  We had a nice hall, fancy decorations, and some really neat character goals to keep things going for the six and a half hours and to justify the $16 non-concession door price.

Then we had 12 people purchase tickets.

Ye gads....  You can't rely on 12 people to entertain themselves for 6 and a half hours.  Well, you can, but you shouldn't, because they won't be very entertaining 9 / 10.

So I'm having to shift things around, take the original advertised concept and mould it a bit so that everything I said about the game remains true but there's more stuff to do and keep them occupied.  As it's a dice LARP I can't rely on drumming up buddies to charge in there as bad guys because, well, dice LARP combat even between 12 people is pretty boring, so I need to find ways to keep them entertained that doesn't rely on NPCs.

For a little while, I panicked.  I won't lie.  I considered swapping venues and building up a real murder mystery style game, very Lovecraftian, lots of props, but swapping venues a week beforehand is generally a bad idea.  It looks sloppy.  Plus I didn't have enough time to really do all the props and handouts that would make that work.

So I stole a couple Nordic ideas through a lens of Vampire: the Requiem.  We should have more than enough stuff to keep folk entertained and busy.  6 1/2 hours.  12 players.  The time allotment works brilliantly as well.

Naturally I can't discuss it upfront as some of my players will read this but I will be able to give you all of the details next week.

Also sorry I've been slack with this blog.  I've been busy with LARPs and life and stuff.  I'll do up a Game Translation this Wednesday on This Is War to make up for it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Wrath of the Righteous: New Encounter (Children of Drezen)

Story Summary
Yaniel was a bright-eyed paladin who made frequent forays into the worldwound atop her mighty steed and but for a few tumbles with an aasimar paladin she was focused on her work.  Her focus caused her to ignore certain signs of pregnancy until it was too late and she had been snatched by Abyssal forces and granted to the Invidiak in 4694.  He soon discovered her pregnancy and took great delight in wearing her while describing the symptoms of her pregnancy and the guarantee of her child's soon-to-be warped nature.

Although she knew that her child would be tainted, Yaniel could not help but call out to a gentler goddess for assistance in granting one wish.  She prayed to Shelyn to ensure that her child would know her love, no matter what would happen later, for the child was blameless in its affliction.  Shelyn could no more get involved in rescuing Yaniel and her child from their fate than Iomedae but this wish she could grant.

While Yaniel survived the birth, she did not survive long for soon after she was taken by another demoness and cocooned so that the demon could wear her likeness.  Her child, on the other hand, was passed into the communal nursery with all of the others.  There was some concern that he would consume the other children but none would deny the Invidiak's wishes (at least, none who would care).

The child's celestial blood would normally have been entirely extinguished but for the ever present love he felt from his mother.  Instead it interwove with the Abyssal infusion of essence just enough to allow the son a tiny crack, a mere sliver, of human conscience.  This was never enough to make him a good person, or even neutral, but it allowed him to have human attachments fostered by his understanding of a mother's love for her child.  This makes him redeemable with the same strength of chaotic evil alignment as would be found in tieflings on the nastier side of the band.

It is now 4713.  The child, Willem, is now seventeen, though he has aged more slowly and therefore has the mind, build and maturity of a thirteen-year-old.  Rather than being treated as impressive or special, he has lived his life much like any other tiefling - albeit one who was more dangerous to cross.  He is a 1st level expert who spent much of his life in the mines being treated as simple by the other humans who didn't realise that he was simply aging more slowly.


Once the PCs' army finish taking apart Drezen's defences, Willem will approach them from the cover of the one of the buildings and offer information on the whereabouts of the two nursery and mine/school.  Willem doesn't fancy his chances out in the open with them, presuming he'll be destroyed, and will attempt to flee out the back window and fly away if they approach him. 

Any attempts to Sense Motive (DC 15) him will reveal that he isn't leading them into a trap, that he fears for his own safety and that he doesn't trust them an inch with his own life but believes that the children have a better chance with paladins (whom he assumes will execute them) than with the cultists (whom he assumes will ritually slaughter them in agonising rites of apology to their demonic masters). 

Attempts to Intimidate him into surrendering will automatically fail unless they can surround / trap him (which is hard to do with his incorporeal options, see "Half-Invidiak" template in Demons Revisited).  Attempts to Bluff him into giving further information as a distraction while others circle around behind him may work (his Sense Motive is +6) but only for 1d4+2 rounds (enough for a single question and answer).  Attempts to use Diplomacy into gathering his trust is particularly hard (DC 35 as he is hostile / terrified for his life).  It is easier to use Diplomacy on him once he is captured as by that point he will feel that there is no point fighting them.

If they attack him, they will likely immediately kill him with an attack or two so do give them a Sense Motive check to determine his motivations especially once they see what he truly looks like.  It's hard to confuse a half-demon with a tiefling, after all.

Capturing him alive will net them 1d6 goods and 1d4 potions as he tries to curry their favour.  He will remain with them for a single night before whisperings among the paladins spook him into trying to flee again.  He won't run if they win over Mr. Fiprac (located in the school) as he trusts the man as a sort of father figure.  Instead he will want a sword and the chance to join them in an attack against his father.  He won't survive a delve into the basement so it's best they leave him behind.

Deskari Nurseries

Due to the risks of raising children around surly, hostile and aggressive demons, the humanoid and tiefling armies have taken to hiding their children away within two underground nurseries built into basements -- halving the chance of a bored demon choosing to murder all of the cultists children at once.  The children's tiefling lineage is the only thing that protects them from rickets due to lack of sunlight and the clerics that look after them are harsh but not particularly abusive for fear of angering the various parents of such children.  After all, only the children of important cultists are raised in relative safety here rather than with their families.

1. Deskari Temple Entrance: Five lvl 3 clerics (see Scholar Priest, NPC Codex) kneel on red cushions around a bowl of haemophagic locusts placed before a carved idol of Deskari.  They frequently make offerings of blood from their own wrists to the swarm.  The locust swarm will remain in its bowl unless the intruders attack.  While diplomacy is an option, it will only work on a DC 30 roll.

2. Living Area: This area simply has a hearthfire, table and two bench seats capable of seating three people each.  There are cooking utensils and a small open scullery and pantry beside the hearthfire.  The pantry contains enough supplies to keep the toddlers and clerics fed for a week.  Should the PCs choose a genocidal answer to these children, they can gain 3 points of consumable food for their armies instead.

3. Bedroom: There are three bunk beds in this room as well as an elaborate stone altar to Deskari with a few old blood stains upon it.  Depending on your player's sensibilities (i.e. trigger warning), you might include a flip up lid revealing a chamber full of flesh eating beetles with a stack of oddly shaped babies' skulls and bones forming a decorative mural on one wall.  The clerics ritualistically murder children who have some visible disability.

4. Nursery: Thirteen tiefling babies lie in make-shift cots with a range of different tiefling aspects - including the odd qlippoth marking due to certain primal abyssal energies rather than bred heritage.  Three bottles of breast milk sit on the dresser.  These self-cleaning conjuration bottles can each provide sustenance to a baby seven times per day. 

5. Playroom: Eight toddlers play together with makeshift toys on dirty bedding.  There is a cage in this room for disobedient toddlers.   All are tieflings due to the contamination of the Worldwound.

NOTE: These tiefling babies and toddlers are all Chaotic Neutral though they are by no means easy to raise (i.e. babies are demanding, frequently cry for no real reason, rarely sleep through the night; toddlers are destructive, stubborn and throw more tantrums than normal).

Schoolyard Mine

These clerics are less considerate of their charges.  All but one fully enjoy inflicting unfair punishments for random irritations to keep the children on their toes as any claimed child would have been returned to their parents for training at this point.  Once a tiefling child turns approximately five years old they are sent to 'school'.  There is a miniature celebration for the new attendees who are fed cake and apple juice and allowed to play in the front room.  They're even allowed a night's stay in real beds (otherwise occupied by the cultist slave drivers). 

The following morning, though, the previous day's lies are ripped away and they are bullied mercilessly into the mines.  Once the kids hit puberty they are drafted into the army (if needed) or left to work the mines.  The half-invidiak, Willem, was an exception to this because he chose to remain in the mines despite the ill-treatment of others, finding safety and succor in the darkness.

Only one individual, Mr. Fiprac, has been good to the children.  Mr. Fiprac is a true neutral level 8 elf ranger (see Orc Slayer in NPC codex but amend favoured enemy to humans).  During a sortie into the wildlands, he was startled by a fiendish bear and fell into a crevasse during a sandstorm, breaking his leg.  Against all odds he managed to crawl / hobble back to Drezen but found the demons less than friendly, barely managing to hide in the school mine.

Although he is a capable ranger, Mr. Fiprac lacked friends among the cultists and therefore couldn't get his leg injury healed.  Since demons have little patience with those who show weakness around them, he knew that leaving the school for long would be a short route to death.  He managed to retain his position in the mine as a teacher, using his obvious patience and guile to successfully ensure the school made its quote of distance per day, even through bedrock.  This proved vital to the cultists as failure to meet requirements meant a cultist would lose a limb and two of the kids.

When the invasion happened, Mr. Fiprac faked the children's escape and instead hid them in the furthest section of the tunnel system.  They managed to roll two barrels of water with them when the fighting broke out but are now desperately hungry but too scared to leave in case the cultists sacrifice them to please Deskari. 

The cultists themselves retreated to the upper areas once it became obvious the city would fall.  Now they surround Priestess Halla, a vicious 8th level cleric of Deskari (base off the Death Priest in the NPC codex), who had been making a deal with some of the lower ranking clerics when the armies attacked.  Finding herself cut off from the rest of the battle above, she decided to wait below until the paladins were defeated.  She has summoned two Incubi to her side and is in the process of sacrificing her cultists so that they might arise more quickly from Abyssal larvae.

Front House: Entering the mines is relatively easy if you know where it is.  The house is one of many taken over by cultists and the door to the mines has a bracket where a heavy wooden bar would be slid into place each night to keep the children inside.  There is currently no bracket in place.

Cellar: The uppermost room within the mining complex was once a cellar that has been updated with a large table and benches, shelves along one wall containing various tools, a few barrels of food and ale, and a wardrobe full of tattered children's clothing and the sleeping mats they use at night.  The clerics themselves slept upstairs.  There is no light source in here.  The children are expected to live by their darkvision.  A long ladder leads down at a ramp-like angle for forty feet over a deep gap to a ledge-like protrusion.

Ledge: This thick six-foot-wide ledge contains down and around the edge of the hole, occasionally broken up and requiring another ramp, with a couple of passageways snaking off of it.  The hole is far deeper than this ledge (created by earth shifting magic) reaches.  The low intonement of prayers to Deskari can be heard in one of the side passageways.

Chanters Room: Halla believes that Deskari can be appeased by sacrificing one cultist a night for their cowardice.  She first carves the group's sins into the sacrifice's skin before bloodily butchering them upon an altar.  The sacrifice itself is pleased to be so anointed and chants alongside the rest.  There are no children in this room.  When Halla sees the PCs, she will attack as will her Incubi and five remaining cultists who have the same stats as those in the nursery.

Bolt Hole: This room is at the end of one of the abandoned passageways.  The cultists assumed there was no one here because they figured that the children would have gotten hungry and gone to find them.  Instead they all crouch in one small partial tunnel that branches off a long and winding one, using another such room as the latrine.  They are hungry and desperate.  Mr. Fiprac defends them with his life but if they clearly serve the paladin army or a good God, then he will throw himself at their mercy and hope that they may all be freed.  Since the PCs are likely to outright attack him, it's best to give them a Sense Motive DC 15 roll to identify his defensive and protective demeanour, otherwise they may slaughter him before realising their error.  There are 35 kids - all tieflings.