#RPGaDAY 29: Most Memorable Encounter

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Wake of the Watcher cover.In the midst of Carrion Crown‘s Wake of the Watcher chapter, beset by nightgaunts and mi-go, we happened across a creature sufficiently bizarre to put all the Lovecraftian beasties to shame. It hopped. It squawked demanding, nonsensical questions. It projected images between antennae. It was . . . the riddling turnip. Or really, it was a cerebric fungus. But the WTF factor of the encounter stuck with us for weeks after, past the mi-go’s Mr. Chunder blender, Gea the inside-out mockery of an eidolon from beyond the Dark Tapestry and even the incarnation of Shub-Niggurath herself.

“They must have ordered it late one night off the electric radish.”
— Geoff on Mr. Chunder

Honorary Mention

Way back in the day, there was the Stargate SG-4 campaign. This team of four tromps through the gate to a shiny new world, discover it’s the middle of the night in a museum and they immediately panic. Run! Hide! Don’t let the aliens find us! Never mind that this is the Stargate universe, where a simple “hi” works wonders. No, some primal groupthink instinct kicked in and the team members were all seized by an utter dread of actually encountering any inhabitants of this world they’d come to explore.

[Mummy’s Mask] The Fragrance of Fallen Qlippothim

“You know there’s a bard in the party when you’re arguing about scansion during a fight.”
— Mentu

The Half-Dead City cover art. This week in Mummy’s Mask, the party continued their sub-contract of investigating the perfume shop in the middle of a ghoul turf war. The depths of the shop beckoned, but ghouls gathered outside, so they took care of those first, with Viktovich playing the star role plowing through them.

The back rooms of the shop boasted elderly perfume-making apparatus, an oven with a qlippoth-infested cat and a giant black widow in the bedroom.

Loaded down with fragile glassware, they beat feet back to the temple of Bastet with ghouls on their heels. It was Walkers of Nemret versus the Lapis Dogs in the street, with archery support from the temple steps. And Tath finally got to use enlarge person on Viktovich, so everyone was happy.

Moreover, we leveled after all that! And then I discovered that all this time, Mentu’s favored enemy was the undead. So he’ll be shifting closer, if less tactfully, to Akhil’s stance of complete disgruntlement at treating with ghouls. However well-spoken, ghouls are pestilent vermin.

#RPGaDAY 20: Will Still Play in 20 Years Time

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Carrion Crown: The Haunting of Harrowstone coverThis is a no-brainer. In the circles in which I currently move, the game we’ll still be playing in 20 years is Pathfinder, if only because Paizo pumps out campaigns far faster than we can play through them. Carrion Crown took two-plus years meeting almost every week. At every other week with the occasional side diversion, Mummy’s Mask could easily take double that to play out. If Paizo stopped publishing adventure paths with the end of Iron Gods, that would leave thirteen for me to play through, including resuming Skull & Shackles. Look at the math, if you estimate 2.5 years per playthrough:

13 campaigns * 2.5 years per campaign = 32.5

I’m not saying that’s a goal of mine. Pathfinder is an extremely accessible game, and the local area has a wealth of options to play. All things being equal, it will always be a safe fallback.

[Mummy’s Mask] Ghoulish Nation-Building

The Half-Dead City cover art.We went off-book this week in Mummy’s Mask. Tath the tiefling witch has been very interested in picking up where another team of treasure retrievers left off, as ghouls cut the Sand Scorpions in half before they could even get to their assigned target, Iskahara’s house of perfumes.

So into the necropolis they returned, heading for Acrid Street, the perfumery district. And they discovered not one pack of ghouls, but two, plus an embassy from a ghoul nation deep beneath the earth. Akhil was not psyched about treating with ghouls at all, but Tath and Raenar pushed forward, made some friendly overtures, and got free passage within their territory, so that’s a good start.

And then they met a girtablilu in Iskhara’s shop. It’s a very cosmopolitan population in today’s necropolis. More than half of whom did not immediately try to kill us!

#RPGaDAY 13: Most Memorable Character Death

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Lucky day thirteen of #RPGaDAY brings us to the happy topic of dead characters. Carrion Crown had a slew of memorable character deaths and maulings, thanks to Hunter’s merciless cleaving to the unswayed justice of the die. Three stand out in particular in my mind:

  • Callimachi, attempting to be the stealthy scout of the party, explored some corner of a fortification the creepiest, darkest mountains of Ustalav and took a point blank banshee shriek to the face. Save or lose an excessive number of hit points. Hit points: lost!
  • Solis the elven summoner got caught on the wrong side of one of Thadeamus’ walls, as I recall, leaving him to fight a big bad alone. That big bad opted to employ a suffocation effect — in a whirlwind? — and it ended poorly for Solis.
  • Horace Gunderson was the first of the Carrion crew to fall. Exploring the acid factory of Vorkstag and Grine, he was mauled horribly by a golem hound. And, interestingly, Horace was the only adventurer in that campaign who opted to stay dead.

[Mummy’s Mask] The House of Pentheru Is a Real Fixer-Upper

“Let’s make a vargouille-zela!”
— Akhil, oracle of Pharasma

The Half-Dead City cover art.We cleaned out the remainder of the house of Pentheru this week. Smarting from the encounter with the house’s off-kilter genius loci, the wealth extraction concern PlunderCats, Ltd., dba some more reputable name, were alarmed by the indication of vargouilles[1] on the second floor of the house and suitably cautious in the exploration thereof. After dealing with the foreshadowed vargouilles — deprotagonization via paralysis is never not a poor choice to put in a monster’s list of ways to screw with characters — and wondering why Akhil was bro-tight with a disembodied floating head — the crypt of Pentheru was a little anti-climactic. Viktovich did a bang-up job threshing a swarm of undead cats — cat king? — and there were some items of note, but the action was low-key, thanks to the archaeologist ably disarming a nasty trap.

Looking forward, Tath the tiefling witch is pretty psyched about setting ghoul factions against each other. In-character, anything that sets ghouls against each other, rather than preying on innocents, is a bang-up idea to Mentu, my spell-less ranger, but out of character, all I have to say is goddamn motherfucking ghouls. More paralysis.

“I’m changing my class to magic-usurer.”
— Raenar slips into the role of party accountant

[1] Which were super obnoxious in one of the many Skull & Shackles‘ sessions ending in TPK or morale equivalent, too.

When I Rolled Seventeen


When I rolled seventeen, it was a very good hit
It was a very good hit for a fighter with a plus one sword
It would’ve been a crit if my weapon were keen
When I rolled seventeen

Apologies to Jake of the Mummy’s Mask group for misremembering his particular mangling.

Mummy’s Mask: The Half-Dead City

The Half-Dead City cover art.Since Carrion Crown wrapped up last December, my role-playing opportunities have been a little sparse on the ground. Other obligations kept my schedule from lining up with other opportunities, which have been surprisingly plentiful, as Burlington has enjoyed a boom in public tabletop game opportunities in the last nine months, but it hasn’t ever really worked out.

Until recently, when Dan, he of Horace Gunderson and Auberon Crane, decided that the best complement to an every other week campaign of Wrath of the Righteous for Pathfinder would be the Mummy’s Mask adventure path on alternating weeks.

I dithered over a character for a long time. Long enough that almost everyone else settled on some kind of spell-casting class, which made it pretty clear we needed more than the dwarven warrior-matron Victovich. So, having seen the class in action with Geoff’s character Andris in Carrion Crown, I picked up the Expanded Spell-less Ranger PDF from Kobold Press. Clumsy name, but I liked that it brought rogue talent-like capabilities to the ranger, whose later level new additions tend to be “have some low level druid spells!” It’s so early in the game, that Mentu the spell-less ranger is exactly like any other ranger in Wati. I’ll keep you posted.

So far, the PlunderCats, doing business as . . . some other, less compelling name that I didn’t come up with, became a fully authorized team of tomb raid — antiquities reclaimants. They successfully explored a general’s tomb and circulated valuable goods into the local economy. Their second assigned job proved more problematic, with a swarm of scarabs and some kind of sand elemental proving the most troublesome.

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Solitaire

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Rise of the Runelords Base Set cover.Last week, in the comedown from the Game ‘n Grill, I was seized by the urge to try Sentinels of the Multiverse solo. Stocking issues thwarted me. Then I realized that I had another avenue for solo play: the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, which I had on loan from the Carnage library. By design, it’s a cooperative card game in which players send their characters — which are represented by decks of cards — search locations — which are represented by decks of cards — to flush out villains and henchmen — which form parts of decks of cards — likely encountering monsters and barriers, scoring loot and making allies — which form other parts of decks of cards. And this must be accomplished within a certain number of turns — which are represented by a deck of cards.

So you can imagine there’s a fair bit of deck creation and shuffling when you sit down to play.

The rulebook recommends choosing Merisiel the rogue for a solo character. It also recommends a solitaire player control multiple characters, but I have enough difficulty keeping one character’s abilities and hand straight. There’s no sense in putting myself in the position of mixing up hands of cards. So I stuck with Merisiel, who has a buff ability that relies on being the only hero in a location, and can evade encounters at will. That evasion ability means that with one hero covering three locations, it’s usually better to search until you find a henchman, and then move on to a new location, whether you close the first or not. If you know the villain isn’t there, move on. When you finally encounter the villain, they’ll flee, but you can attempt to close the location. Wherever the villain goes next, there will be fewer cards with negative consequences to face.

Merisiel’s ability to evade encounters is a huge benefit. Early in the game, when there’s time to spare, you can afford to skip anything that isn’t a boon until you flush out the villain or their henchlings. Chronic evasion also means that a lot of your turns are turning over two cards, blessing and location, shuffling the location deck and moving on to the next turn.

Solitaire play is honestly kinda dull. There’s none of the coordination of characters that you can enjoy with additional players. With Merisiel, at least, the best choice during a turn is often avoidance, until she can build up a stronger hand, if she’s short on an actual weapon.[1] If the threats to characters were more dynamic — the world is succumbing to disease, the building is burning down — avoidance would be a far less attractive option.

I could dig playing this solo if there weren’t quite so much deck preparation beforehand. It’s truly a task where many hands make light work. And if you’re on your own, you might start the game feeling like you just played a brisk round of Dominion. The absence of more dynamic action during the game, like you would find in a Pandemic or Sentinels of the Multiverse, makes the solitaire version, lacking the social element of other players, mostly an exercise in shuffling stacks of cards, waiting to find something useful or the villain of the scenario.

[1] And one trick I just thought of, but didn’t employ is to recharge an undesirable card during an encounter for the bonus die, just to potentially improve Merisiel’s hand for the next turn.

[RPG Blog Carnival] Pimp a Game: Northern Crown

rpgblogcarnivallogoIn this carnival of sharing our under-loved favorite role-playing games, I’d like to talk about Northern Crown.

Picture a history of the world mostly as we know it, but painted with the palette of d20 Dungeons & Dragons. Amid the hardworking artisans and farmers of Uropa stride adventurers: trained soldiers, paladins of God, wizards and more.

The powers of western Uropa have turned their gaze to the west, where a massive, uncharted land, called Northern Crown for the distinctive constellation in its night sky, has been found by explorers. Those Uropan nations have unsurprisingly taken to the prospect of new, open lands with alacrity, settling all up and down Northern Crown’s eastern coast.

Of course, Northern Crown isn’t empty of inhabitants at all. Wild, fantastic beasts dwell here: catamounts, horned serpents, stony elementals, fairies and more. Moreover, people live here. The nations of the First Ones span the landscape, blending into the existing environment that most Uropan settlements don’t. As you can tell, it’s a match for the ages as the First Ones struggle against foreign interlopers in their lands.

Northern Crown stands out from other fantasy settings in several ways for me, who’s accustomed to most fantasy settings being “Okay, it’s pretty much standard Dungeons & Dragons, but darker!”:

  • Anachronistic alternate history. Part of the world’s charm is it’s not only an alternate history of the world as we know it, plus magic, fell beasts and all that, plus it’s the greatest hits of renaissance/reformation Europe and colonial America. Fantasy Thomas Jefferson and Wizardly Ben Franklin lead a nation of freethinkers in the 17th century, while exiled King Charles plots against the half-fey Gloriana reigning over Albion.
  • Humans only. The dominant sentient species in Northern Crown are humans. There are fairies and outsiders, but they start off as non-player races. There are no elves or dwarves, etc. Replacing the racial axis in the Cartesian grid system of character creation is culture. Players choose a culture in which their character grew up and receive feats and abilities based on what that culture values. Albions learn minor glamer magics, Vinlanders train for the life of a sea wolf and Sophians prize education and reason.
  • Straddling the divide between medievalism and industry. True to its historical roots, Northern Crown incorporates advances in technology from the default pseudo-medievalism of Dungeons & Dragons. Firearms are relatively common, though the rules as written make them more of a pain than they’re worth, which is how I think the designer wanted them. The apex of melee combat is fencing, more intricately developed than the art of swinging a greatsword. Natural philosophers have begun to categorize and plumb the depths of phenomena observed in the world — they’re mechanically a kind of spellcaster that relies on specific tools, but the process and effects are wholly scientific.

To the goal of getting Northern Crown into the game-playing public’s eye, in December I began the project of extracting the setting’s declared open content — so wonderfully much of it; indeed, nearly everything — and updating it to Pathfinder, presenting it in the style of d20pfsrd.com. You’ll find Project Boreas, currently a work in progress, available for perusal and populated with ever more material for exploring the lands of Corona Borealis.

Updating the source material to Pathfinder has been interesting. So far I’ve focused on things that don’t need a lot of change. But I’m coming to the point where Northern Crown‘s unique classes — agent, natural philosopher, rake, raider, soldier and witch, namely — need attention. Sometimes, there’s a Pathfinder class or archetype that does most of the job, or there are already written class features that can transport over pretty well. The question is: when is it worth making a change to something already written?

My own inclination is to change as little of the source material as possible. Let GMs and players make their own decisions. Some things, like upgrading a class’ hit die, are no-brainers. Northern Crown‘s unique classes also need level 20 capstone abilities. Other things, like the fencing rules, perplex me. They were written before the codification of combat maneuvers into CMB and and CMD rolls. How does one gauge the utility of a hilt smash or rondo against the venerable charge and bull rush? Plus, there shouldn’t be a feat to gain access to fencing moves. So either all the classes that get Fencing for free either need a new free feat, or that Fencing feat gives a CMB bonus to fencing maneuvers; CMB bonuses are reportedly rare as hen’s teeth in Pathfinder, outside the cad. I may like Pathfinder, but I certainly don’t have the level of system mastery to know when tugging on a string knocks down a load-bearing column on the far side of the rules complex.

Fun questions, right? That’s what I’ll plug away at as I can for the next few months. Spending more time observing conversation on the Paizo forums has proven very instructive in getting a read on things that are considered vital, over-powered or lackluster in the eyes of forum-going players.

All this game mechanic work is in service to running a Northern Crown game someday, of course; hopefully after we finish Carrion Crown. Picture it: the hard-set Free Republic of Vermont lies in the nebulous marches between Nouvelle France and Nieu Amsterdam, antagonistic Uropan powers, sharing that contested space with First Ones bands and the fantastic fauna of Northern Crown. After a rough winter, its citizens — some of whom may not agree that they “belong” to any such republic — need new leaders to succeed the aging Ira Cole, chief of the Green Mountain Rangers. Leaders who ought to be handy with swords, flintlocks and spells to defend their lands and neighbors.