Northern Crown: Stronghold of the Stag Lord Sundered

This week in Northern Crown, the Sophian contingent resumed their assault on the Stag Lord’s fortifications. Somehow, despite the party’s best efforts, Ethan Allen survived the frontal assault, so that’s an issue. Ivy and the pukwudgies arrived in time to turn the tide, helping keep the Stag Lord and his minions confused and in disarray while watch towers burned.

Now, once all the level-up goodies are dealt with, there remains the question of precisely what is hidden under the Stag Lord’s stronghold.

Pukwudgie reinforcements take the Stag Lord by surprise from the rear.

They have an owl bear.

It wasn’t going great on the frontal approach, as planned.

Foxglove managed to strangle a watchtower guard and swing onto the nearby roof in one go.

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Northern Crown: Stronghold of the Stag Lord

This past week in Northern Crown, the Sophian colonial militia — aka the heroes, plus some interlopers to the nascent colony that no one important[1] would mind losing to the crossfire, like Ethan Allen — decided it was time to cement their claim to the territory of Vermont by removing the other apparent power: the Stag Lord, in his own home, no less.

Foxglove led Ethan and the other expendables on a frontal approach, while the remainder of the group, including our pudwudgie ally, scaled the rear of the stockade.

We all knew there was a good reason the rear approach looked so unguarded. Turns out it was a burial ground teeming with restless dead.


[1] Families and loved ones excluded.

Carnage XX: 20 Years of Tabletop Games in Vermont

Picture of the four horsemen of the apocalypse pointing in different directions, corresponding with a sign-post reading "Board Games, Card Games, Minatures, RPG." Text reads, "20 years later, they still can't decide what to play first at Carnage."

Planning for Carnage has been under way since early this past summer. With less than a month to go before the convention kicks off, things are starting to feel truly real. This year feels different to me, for several different reasons.

To start, it’s Carnage’s 20th anniversary. The convention was first held in 1998 in a small hotel ballroom in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Since then, it’s grown to the point of taking over entire resorts. I’ve been attending the convention since 2005, so I have quite a few under my belt, but there are still plenty of people attending this year who can proudly say they have been to every single Carnage.

Last year, the convention offered an online registration option for the first time, letting people skip printing out and mailing in a paper form. This year, Carnage took the next step forward, using an online, real-time registration system custom built for game conventions called Tabletop.Events. Having a dynamic system that facilitates customer self-service — people can see what games are open while lounging in their PJs, instead of having to pad down to the convention information desk! — has been huge for both the attendees and the organizers. Adding games to the schedule after the initial launch no longer means they’re on an addendum sheet that not everyone may catch.

In fact, the automation of registration has given me the mental bandwidth to work on something I’ve wanted to do for a while: work on more graphical elements for social media, like the one above. They may not go viral, per se, but I’ve seen the metrics on the few that have published so far and their visibility has been significantly better than text-only posts, or links to the Carnage website.

Plus, getting continuous seat time in Photoshop has been a help for me finally getting more comfortable in that space and learning what the tools really do as I’m following along with tutorials to achieve this effect or the other. Graphics for social media are a low stakes area for Carnage, so there’s room to play and get creative to see what sticks.

Lastly, but by no means least, for the first time ever Carnage will host live comedy games of Dungeons & Dragons featuring not one, but two groups. Friday night, Improvised Weapons is an actual play podcast featuring improv comedians from the Burlington area that I’ve been enjoying for a while now, and this will be their first live show with an audience.

Saturday night, Victory Condition Gaming hosts the next installment on their ongoing live stream game run by Joe from Gemhammer & Sons with a cast of characters from the regional convention circuit. And yes, you read that right, it’s a live stream game, available through Victory Condition’s YouTube channel. Victory Condition is also kindly providing live stream coverage of the Improvised Weapons shows and other games at Carnage this year.

Now, because you’ve made it to the end of the article, here’s a  sneak preview for something launching on social media tomorrow:

Northern Crown: Defending the Trading Post

One of my bucket list role-playing games has been Northern Crown ever since the setting was first published in the mid-aughts. In a fantasy-infused version of North American in 1650, the Republic of Sophia has sent an expedition in support of a lonely trading post on the western shore of a long lake named after the French explorer de Champlain, charged with exploring and claiming the lands there for the republic.[1] And so the heroes arrived at Ira and Jerusha Allen’s trading post, just in time to fend off marauding bandits who have come to raid the storehouse.

The layout that our GM, Tom, came up with to represent the trading post was pretty damn impressive — especially because he had it hidden under the surface of his game table. We started thinking we were just going to be using a Lego canal ship, then Tom broke out the Heroscape terrain for the interlude where we freed the sasquatch from cruel portagers, and then he said, “We need to move all this,” and started pulling up the table surface to reveal the diorama pictured above.


[1] I’m told it’s loosely the plot of Pathfinder‘s Kingmaker adventure path, reconfigured for the lands and peoples of Northern Crown, using an equally loose implementation of Pathfinder rules, with elements from Dungeon Crawl Classics and FATE.

BPRD: The Celestial Legion

Printouts of the character sheet and biography for Sparky, Nikola Tesla's electrical golem.

Sifting through more stuff in the wake of purging empty boxes, I came across a trove of materials from convention games I’ve run over the years: several Ghostbusters scenarios from Carnages past, Unknown Armies‘ archetypal Jailbreak, and this particular gem, The Celestial Legion. It’s a Hellboy/B.P.R.D. adventure I wrote back when I was getting around to more conventions in New England than Carnage. Forgive me, purists, because it was written using mainly Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy film as inspiration, because that was my first real experience with the character. Only in the case of my conception of the B.P.R.D, most of the team members are weirdos like Sparky here — the Russian werebear assassin, the psychic supermodel — plus the much put-upon token normal agent, whose most-used piece of gear was the clicker gadget on his belt to track the collateral damage tally.

The sharp-eyed may note that the player materials I make are heavily patterned after the sample characters in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel role-playing games: short bio, some notes to guide how the character might act and look at things, and a full character sheet on another page. In this case, it was because I ran the game using Cinematic Unisystem and may have borrowed more than a few pieces of art from the sample character spreads for character portraits. (Sparky’s particular portrait is a work called Creacion del golem by Gabos on DeviantArt.com.)

I still feel proud of The Celestial Legion for being one of the more robustly documented adventures I’ve written, but I think the second and third acts need work. As is my bad habit, I came up with a great concept, detailed how it all kicks off and then the detailing and robustness of what might happen trails off as the narrative progresses. The more I think about it now, the more I realize I can’t tell you what the climax of the adventure is, or how it pays off the prior scenes.

Boarding Man’s Promise

 Skull & Shackles convened this week for what turned out to be the taking of Man’s Promise. We did a bang-up job of securing the sterncastle, as well as repelling a band of grindylows. Dealing with the goons Plugg sent down into the bilges proved more troublesome, but ultimately soluble.

Our GM Mike did a bang-up job with the miniatures, right? He built both the Wormwood and Man’s Promise and painted most of the figures you see — excepting Usidore the Blue, of course.

Skull & Shackles: Dire Rats Redux

Four shanghaied adventurers face off against dire rats in the bilges of a sailing ship, as role-playing minis on a map.
Can you pick out Usidore the Blue in this picture? He’s a water wizard, ‘Arry.

After a very, very long run-up, I got to join in a nascent campaign of Skull & Shackles, which readers may recall I have sampled before. Hopefully this time, bot fly fever will be less of a crushing burden.

Defending Egil

Defending Egil the Icelander from the search party of Erik Bloodaxe, as rendered in Heroscape tiles.

Defending Egil the Icelander from the search party of Erik Bloodaxe, as rendered in Heroscape tiles.

I played in a session of Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok yesterday that includes this amazing spread of Heroscape terrain and traditionally painted miniatures, as well as Egil the Icelandic Heroclix (Mage Knight, maybe?) figure. This was the second part of the scenario in the back of the core book. Everything points to the next stop in this pick-up campaign being Iceland itself. We glossed over how NPC-ified Turborg might rather return Ingrid to her father in Dublin immediately.

Michael Jordan as the MVP of Unknown Armies

Githyanki Diaspora has an interesting interview with Jim DelRosso about Unknown Armies, in which Jim mentions that he substituted Michael Jordan for Alex Abel as the person behind the New Inquisition:

Basically, Alex Abel is set up in the text to be a popular figure in the mainstream consciousness; the “reveal” that he’s running TNI is supposed to be a surprise. But it doesn’t work in a game because he doesn’t exist outside of UA’s fiction: he exists only to run TNI. Getting players to be surprised by that fact is like getting them to be surprised that billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne is actually Batman. You’d either have to try to subtly introduce him to the narrative over time, or just ask them to pretend to be amazed. Neither seems fun.

 

So I went looking for a different Alex Abel.

Scroll down about halfway to the section on how Jordan became the man who decided “to just beat on the pinata of the occult until answers fall out,” which includes a timeline of Jordan’s meteoric success and sometimes curious career changes over the 1990s and 2000s, and how they make sense within the context of Alex Abel’s aborted ascension to the Invisible Clergy and his burning need to discover what he unknowingly lost that day. It really is spectacular, and just the kind of backfilled secret history that makes Unknown Armies the role-playing game of Tim Powers novels.