2019/02/15

OSR: On Zak (Sabbath) Smith

If you're not sure what all this is about, Justin Stewart (Dragons Gonna Drag) has an excellent summary post linking to several stories and accounts. You can also look through the Old School RPG Planet list. I'm not going to try and repeat any of it. Other people more closely connected to the entire event have already covered all the major points. So if this post is mostly about trivia, it's because I don't have much else to say. As usual, Cavegirl's got it covered.

 I believe women. I believe Mandy, Hannah, Jessica, and Vivka. Their abuser cannot debate, intimidate, or manipulate me into silence. There is no place for abusers among us. 

Everything below the jump is significantly less important than the preceding paragraph.


2019/02/10

OSR: One Page Dungeon: The Biggest Aspidistra in the World

The Magical Industrial Revolution book I'm working on will have a few dungeons in it. Here's a quick low-level one. Everything about it is still in draft form of course, but it might be useful.

It's the biggest aspidistra in the world! Click here or on the image for the PDF.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1itfF2aI1vYmtjgQ1WLLgVkoY94eXqCMO

2019/02/07

40k: Unified Skirmish Terrain Theory

I've been playing a fair bit of Kill Team recently. Everyone has opinions on strategy and tactics but nobody really seems to know what to do with terrain. I've seen all kinds of setups. Some worked, some produced very short or extremely one-sided games.

Objectives
-Produce interesting, dynamic games.

-Force players to make meaningful choices.

This article isn't about positioning terrain to guarantee a win. It's all about setting up a board to produce a fun game for everyone involved.


Guidelines

1. Don't put terrain on the outer edge of the board.
Not sure where I got this image. It's a nice board overall but the stuff around the edges is just decoration.

Not sure where I got this one either. The buildings in red are in deployment areas. The models in them will just sit there all game sniping away.
You want to encourage movement. Putting terrain in a ring around the edge of the board and then leaving the middle empty makes for short and boring games. Teams deploy in the best buildings available and blast each other to bits. Anything foolish enough to wander into the empty middle can be targeted by anyone.

Tall terrain on the outer edge of the board also means you'll spend all game leaning over and trying not to snag a sleeve on a parapet. The official GamesWorkshop boards can trick you into putting buildings along "roads". Not the best plan.

2. The best positions require movement to reach.


Image provided by Ramanan S. The red soup can tower has two snipers on it. The poor models in white can hide in the green areas, but the snipers can hit any other part of the board.
If you can deploy a sniper (any model with a long-ranged high-powered weapon) in a spot where they can see the entire board, they can very easily control the entire game. It should take a turn or two of movement (and not shooting) to reach a position where the model can fire at two or more quarters of the board.

3. Place objectives carefully.
It's surprisingly hard to find images of objective placement, so here's an example of good placement I set up. There are multiple ways to get to the objective.
Objective markers are ubiquitous in skirmish games. Try to put them in locations that will drive conflict. Objectives in the open are difficult to hold; no cover means no protection. Objectives protected by walls on 3 sides are too easy to hold; all attacks will come from one direction. I like putting objectives on the second level of buildings or in areas with two different approach lanes.

I recommend using the objectives rules from the 2018 Nova tournament (PDF) for Kill Team. They create much more dynamic and close games.


Terrain Plan

Ok, this might be a bit difficult to follow but bear with me.

Top left: It's a skirmish board. The white areas have no line-of-sight-blocking terrain in them. The mid grey areas are places where one-story terrain should go. The dark grey square in the middle is for two-story terrain or higher.

Top right: Here's a potential layout. The light grey areas represent the back side of buildings.

Bottom left. The board divided into quadrants. In most games you'd deploy either in opposite quadrants or opposite board edges.

Bottom right: The board with examples of good objective placement. Corners are good. Objective  1 is out in the open, but there are no better locations in that quadrant. It's OK to have one or two objectives out in the open, just not all of them.


Guideline: Gap -> Ring of Buildings -> Gap -> Taller Central Building



Example Board


I set this up a earlier today. The outer edges of the board are empty. All the two-story terrain (and all the best firing positions) are near the middle of the board. The objectives are accessible in several different ways. One objective marker is on the upper level; I could put marker (1) up there too to drive a bit more conflict, but it's already a fairly powerful position to hold. Moving models in the centre of the board will be tricky but not impossible. There's a completely open side to the catwalks.

2019/02/01

OSR: The Eight Deadly Sins of Endon

I'm trying to find ways to better utilize a city map. Sure, there's a list of landmarks and major buildings, but I'd like to have a few pages to provide easy answers for GMs. "Where can I waste my money?" "What is my secret passion and how can I gratify it?" etc. One of the ways to make a city feel like a city is to have lots of interconnected areas, reinforced in the mind of the players by repeated associating under different context. Basically, they keep finding themselves in the same areas for completely different reasons.

If you're designing a city, consider listing where the seven (or eight) deadly sins can be gratified. It's very helpful.

Alexandru Negoita

The Eight Deadly Sins of Endon



Just as they recognize the eight points of a compass and the eight true colours, Endoners recognize (and cater to) eight deadly sins. Costs can be found on pg. ##.


An enterprising GM may want to inflict a single Sin on each PC at character creation; their secret vice, guilty pleasure, or open cause of ruination.
 

1. Gluttony: Dining Halls of Haymarket Square

Fiskelby’s, the Chuzzle, The Wobegone Club, The Red Lion, the Grand Cafe, Boutillon’s.

The fashionable restaurants and clubs of Haymarket Square (6, pg. ##) provide dishes to stagger the imagination. The Upper Class “dines out” rarely, the Middle Class whenever it can afford to, and the Lower Class gorges itself at pie-shops, gin dens, and roasting places.

2. Lust: Rampant Prostitution

Rathbone Place, Miss Chaterham’s, the New Parliament, the Duke’s Stables, Fancy-Free. 

For many, the only way to avoid starvation. In the knocking-shops around Colbraith Square (19, pg. ##) any preference can be accommodated at a few moment’s notice. Nearly everyone visits.

3. Greed: Betting Shops

Wise Fortune’s, Glengallery, Tipping House, the Great Sweeny’s, the Bell, the Chapel.

Endoners bet on everything: horse, dog, and pony races, dog-on-rat fights, boxing, tides, politics, and spur-of-the-moment wagers. Vast fortunes are lost on a throw of the dice or a turn of the cards. The best-appointed gambling dens cluster near Loxdon College (21, pg. ##).


4. Pride: Fashionable Tailors

Velvet Concourse, the Elm Trees, Matwick’s, the Brothers Bamstead, the Old Reliant.

Fashions change every Season. Dandies, courtiers, and ambitious young people follow fashion’s siren song to Needle Circus (24, pg. ##).

5. Envy: Watching Carriages at the Long Mall 

Ooh, there goes Lord Ginthem with a paid companion. And Lady Shreevly, like a clipper with all sails set. Look there, it’s the Duke of Bradham in his dress uniform, back from Foreign Parts, with Miss Scrupe, star of the stage.

Throughout the Season, the rich and powerful take long drives or pleasant walks through the Long Mall (12, pg. ##), watched with awe and envy.


6. Wrath: Boxing

Knock-em-Down Hole, the Splitters, Jack Rail’s Den, the Whisperplane, Hal Harrow’s, Squeakers 

Fighting pits and rat-rings are technically illegal but are rarely shut down or prosecuted. All red-blooded Endoners love a good fight. Anyone can participate if they don’t mind a few bruises. They can be found near Saint Nigel’s Workhouse (23, pg. ##). 


7. Sloth: Opium Dens

Land of Dreams, the Blue Steeple, the Clay Bins, Beckim’s, Master Morpheus’s Chambers
 

Though it is not a widespread vice, many people of all Classes and backgrounds take up opium to dull the everyday pain of life. Many dens of lassitude and decay can be found near Hasselby Court (10, pg. ##). 


8. Hatred: Newsagents

Foreign Agents in Our City, Sick Poor Spread Plague, Den of Iniquity, Child Murderer Walks Free, Luxury in Jail, Hanging Is Too Good For Him, Dozens Dead: Who to Blame? 
 
In Endon, it is said that any beast can be wrothful but only a men and tigers can hate. Wrath is bodily, foggy, red. Hate is cerebral, sharp, icy. Many small newspapers and pamphlets are deliberately inflammatory, playing on the worst fears and the deepest prejudices of their readers. Newsagents can be found on every street corner; discarded pamphlets in every dustbin. Of all the eight deadly sins, hate is the easiest to obtain.

2019/01/29

Book Notes: Vienna, 1812

I'm not great on European history between 1700 and 1900. In particular, my knowledge of Napoleon has always been very fuzzy. The story I learned in school took about two paragraphs and ended something like:
"After the collapse of his army in Russia, the Allied nations invaded France and forced Napoleon into exile. He was sent to Elba and Louis XVIII was placed on the throne. Napoleon escaped Elba, returned to France, and raised another army. But then the English got the cane out of the cupboard and gave him a damn good thrashing at Waterloo. The Allies sent him off to St. Helena where he lived out the rest of his days."
So like many things - the order blood is pumped around the heart, where Jakarta, etc. - I filed it under "Things I Vaguely Know But Will Look Up As Needed" and thought no more about it.

But last week on a whim I picked up Vienna, 1814 by David King and it turns out my mental picture of events is entirely wrong. In case this is news to you too, I figured I'd put the most interesting bits in a blog posts. If its not news to you, feel free to marvel at the state of North American education.

What To Do With An Emperor: Napoleon in Elba

Elba is a small island off the coast of Italy. I thought - based on the story I'd been told,  not any actual facts - that Napoleon had been shipped off to a sort of sunny Mediterranean prison. Sure, he could walk on the beach and stare at the far-off coast of France, but he was still a prisoner on a small bit of rock, guarded and blockaded and watched day and night.

Turns out Elba's not that small and, by any definition of the word, Napoleon wasn't a prisoner. It's arguable he wasn't even exiled.

The Treaty of Fontainbleu (1814) set the terms of Napoleon's abdication. Despite the grand-sounding introduction with its long list of titles, the treaty was primarily the creation of Tsar Alexander I. He'd promised Napoleon very generous terms and Napoleon had agreed; the rest of the Grand Alliance would  have to live with it.
  • ART. III. The island of Elba, adopted by his Majesty the Emperor Napoleon, for the place of his residence, shall form, during his life, a separate principality, which shall be possessed by him in all sovereignty and property.
  • ART. XVI. There shall be furnished an armed corvette and the vessels of transport necessary to conduct to the place of his destination his Majesty the Emperor Napoleon, as well as his household. The corvette shall remain the full property of his majesty.
  • ART. XVII. His Majesty the Emperor Napoleon can take with him, and keep for his guard, 400 men, volunteers, officers, subofficers, and soldiers.
Elba wasn't even the Tsar's to give away. A 20-year-old Elban would had already lived under Neapolitan, French Royalist (arguable, but 4,000 armed French royalists living on an island of 12,000 certainly affects the balance of power), English, French, and Hapsburg rule. In 1814 the island belonged to the restored duchy of Tuscany; the Hapsburgs didn't appreciate putting Napoleon, who was sure to be a magnet for trouble, on their undefended southern border.

While Britain refused to sign the treaty, none of the Great Powers were in a position to refuse the Tsar. Napoleon went to Elba and immediately started ruling the place with his characteristic energy. The Elbans seemed to like him; he was naturally charismatic, didn't mind the cobbled-together throne room they'd built, and brought a surprising amount of money to the island.

I get the sense, reading over contemporary accounts, that Napoleon behaved like an energetic dad who'd just retired from leading a huge multinational corporation. Renovations, projects, meddling, and improvements abounded. The treaty had allotted him 400 guards but, soon after arrival, he'd acquired at least 1,000 soldiers. Compared to his invincible Grande Armée it was nothing, but it hardly fits the image of a deserted, exiled Emperor. He had a handful of generals and a proper Navy -  a 16 gun brig, a three-masted corvette, and a tiny 6-ton light boat of some sort.

If Louis XVIII had been more popular, if things hadn't gone the way they did, Napoleon might have remained on Elba forever, turning it into a sort of pocket kingdom with an eccentric but lovable dictator, forever fighting pirates and issuing demands and getting up to hare-brained schemes. He'd already "conquered" the tiny unihnabited islands of Pianosa and Palmaiola. Who knows? Maybe he'd have taken Montecristo from the Hapsburgs.


France had, at least, stripped Elba's meager arsenal and treasury before turning the island over to its new ruler. The new government also refused to pay Napoleon the vast sums specified in the treaty or income from his "personal property" in France and elsewhere.

Ooh, One More Time, I'm Back With A New Rhyme: Napoleon Returns

Nothing in the Treaty of Fontainbleu prevented Napoleon from returning to France. The Inconstant, his brig, needed repairs. Conveniently, these includes strengthening the masts and adding a new coat of paint that, from a distance, made her resemble a British ship. She probably couldn't outrun a proper warship but she probably wouldn't need to; no one was blockading Elba.

Britain, Austria, and France had all expressed alarm at leaving Napoleon so close to Europe and had several times suggested moving him somewhere more remote. Nothing had been done. And now, as pretty much everyone had predicted, he was back.

I'd always imagined Napoleon slinking down to a small ship in the dead of night, assisted by a few loyal soldiers and secret agents, and slipping away before anyone noticed. Instead...

Joseph Beaume
Anyway, the Hundred Days happened, and after a few hundred thousand more casualties, Napoleon abdicated, boarded the HMS Bellerophon, and surrendered. The British shipped him to St. Helena where he was more-or-less properly placed under house arrest. Though he still seemed to have a surprising number of friends, visitors, and servants, he was no longer ruler of anything.

Le Rivage Fatal

St. Helena was, in many ways, the obvious choice. Literally in the middle of nowhere, any further attempts to escape or stir up trouble would be more or less impossible.

But St. Helena wasn't the only option. Shipping Napoleon to Botany Bay was also suggested (though I'm not inclined to dig through the primary source documents to find out by whom).

There's an idea for an alt-history novel. Napoleon and a selection of troublesome generals and appointed kings are shipped to Botany Bay, arriving in 1815. He isn't treated like a typical convict. His English slowly improves. Despite periods of deep depression and lamenting his poor fortune, he throws himself into his work and assists in organizing and improving the penal colony, rapidly becoming indispensable. A route to the interior was only discovered in 1813; most of the region was still unmapped.

If a few die-hard supporters arrived in a ship...

   And Napoleon could gain a reputation among the English colonists (Byron liked him; others might too)...
      And everything went just right...
         Well, he might have thrown the dice again. During his second surrender he'd styled himself as Themistocles; maybe he'd take a turn at playing Spartacus.

No Refunds

I think most people know about the Louisiana Purchase. I didn't know that, in 1814, Spain demanded a refund. They'd ceded Louisiana to France in, oddly enough, another Treaty of Fontainebleau (1762) and France had sold it without letting Spain bid for it first. The Vienna Congress - Britain, in particular - were asked to correct this injustice.

Britain had just ended a war with the United States and had no desire for another one. As part of an agreement to end the slave trade, they offered Spain 400,000 pounds (100,000 pounds over the sale price of Louisiana). Spain accepted. Amusingly, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand was present for the negotiations. He'd pocketed up to one third of the original Louisiana Purchase price.


Plot Seeds from Vienna, 1814

1. A large empire has collapsed and everyone wants their art back. The PCs are hired to transport priceless paintings and statues from one city to another. Will some go "missing" along the way? Will some arrive in an unusual state?

2. A large empire looted the valuable archives of a holy city. The Church wants some books back. Urgently. Really, it's very important that a few books from a very special lead-lined vault are returned immediately.


3. A former tyrant gave one of his hot-headed cavalry commanders a small but strategically placed kingdom. Everyone, including the exiled rules of the kingdom, agree they'd be much happier if the commander went away but he refuses to leave. The PCs are hired to bait him into an ill-advised war or, if that fails, push him off a balcony.

4. The secret service has been opening all diplomatic mail in and out of the city. They accidentally swapped letters and envelopes. The PCs need to break into two embassies and swap the letters before they are opened.

5. The king of a small nation has fallen in love with a flower-stall girl. Something must be done. He keeps missing vital conference meetings.

6. At a masked ball, a PC is seduced by a beautiful woman. Turns out she's a princess (not surprising). But she's also the lover of a very powerful prince from a neighboring kingdom (somewhat worrying). And she's also married to the very powerful prince from this kingdom (alarming). And the PC has left a monogrammed hat/handkerchief in her bedroom.

7. Three thousand silver Imperial teaspoons were stolen from a banquet. The monarch wants them back. There's a bounty on them. The PCs can make some money tracking them down but plenty more money making fake silver spoons from lead and tin.

8. The ambassador insists on driving his carriage from the embassy one or more of the local brothels. More worryingly, he insists on driving it back, usually while blackout drunk and belligerent. The PCs are assigned to keep an eye on him. Hijinks ensue.

9. The crown princes of two neighboring kingdoms have challenged each other to a duel over a botched game of "blindman's bluff". The PCs were present and know that one of the princes really was cheating. Do they reveal this fact (and guarantee a duel and perhaps a war) or lie (and defuse the situation)?


10. A former emperor lives in relative seclusion. Breaking into his castle kidnapping him will be difficult but immensely profitable.

11. The ambassador is not complying with his government's wishes. He will soon be recalled and replaced. The PCs must intercept and destroy any letters from the government to the ambassador.

12. An enormous mansion is on fire. Quick! Help "extinguish the fire" and "rescue valuable treasures". I mean, it's all going to burn anyway, right? One team inside throwing things out the window, one team on the lawn hauling them into the forest.

13. A former emperor needs new furniture. Take this ship and raid the abandoned palaces of a treacherous relative.

14. The PCs are hired to entertain a huge crowd of rulers and their entourages at a semi-formal event. They'd better come up with something impressive. Ghost stories are fashionable right now.

15. There's a new rich young man in town, heir to an enormous fortune. He's got a weakness for cards and the poker face of a comic mime. Can the PCs save him from hordes of ravenous card sharks (and sponge a reward from him) or will they race to fleece him in new and exciting ways?

16. The next ball's theme requires everyone to wear "local peasant costumes" and perform "authentic peasant dances". The PCs are instructed - on pain of death - to round up some local peasants for the local despot to use as models.


17. A powerful ruler is obsessed with a rural prophetess. He reads her letters hundreds of times, dissecting every word and praying well into the night. Her handwriting is... unique, but it might just be possible to forge.

18. Tomorrow evening a gift lottery will be held at the palace. Everyone will bring a suitably valuable gift, then exchange them at random. Someone's slipped a cursed or ill-omened item into the mix. Who, and why?

19. As a joke, the ambassador printed a fake newspaper calling for the "Immediate Assassination" of an underling and promising an enormous reward in the name of a feared tyrant. The underling, always a bit nervous, had a breakdown and fled into the night with a case full of vital documents, the embassy treasury, and six loaded pistols. The PCs need to track  him down.

20. The PCs, survivors of a great battle, are hired by a group of poets to provide a tour of the battlefield. They may need to make up some suitably heroic deeds or reconcile the official accounts with the actual geography.

2019/01/27

OSR: Pirates of the Merabaha, Session 3 & 4

I've been very lax on my session writeups. Time to catch up.

Last session, four impromptu pirates managed to escape the Wexlish Navy, beach a stolen frigate, steal a much more sensibly sized ship from a veteran pirate crew. The PCs are:


Beatrix, a Tarraconese carpenter, engineer, and smooth talking hustler. Elected captain... because nobody else wanted the job.

Imran Goldmaker, an experienced merchant and occasional pirate from the Golden Isles. The ship's quartermaster (a job he's qualified for) and navigator (significantly less so).

Nyali Utugelu, a Chultan shopkeeper turned arsonist turned gun captain.

Gunter von Steenberger, a dockworker from the Ranstead League with near-mythical strength. Not much good with letters but he keeps the crew in line.
The slim coastal cutter The Magestic sailed around the south side of the Isla de Caracol, heading for the notorious pirate town of Porta de Caracol. Nominally Wexlish, the town's governor had been driven off years ago.

The town was significantly less impressive than the PCs expected. A few rotting warehouses dotted the long grey beach. Many pirates, vagabonds, and drunks slept in tents or under the open sky. Few wooden buildings exceeded two stories and there were only three stone buildings in town: the former governor's mansion (demolished and burned), a mysterious house on the hill (intact but windowless) and a ruined church (now a brothel).

The PCs sold the location of the wrecked Cimmeria to a local warehouse-keeper, held a sumptuous party to improve crew morale, restocked their supplies, and tried to decide what to do with their lives. Their safety was by no means certain. The Wexlish Navy, irritated by the loss of one of their most powerful ships in the region, could easily track them to the pirate port and burn the place to the ground. Their crew was not terribly loyal; a simple reward or offer of amnesty could ruin them all.

Captain Beatrix managed to arrange a meeting with the mysterious Sarah Soran, owner of the fortress-house, collector of "antiquities", former mistress of the governor, and, if rumour was to be believed, something not of this earth.

The PCs speculated wildly. Madame Soran was never seen outside her house during the day, always wore a large hat, never ate in public (but drank wine), and seemed to hold the pirates of the town in a fear-induced trance. Gunter thought she was "a night-creature, a wampyre". Nyali thought she might be a sea-goddess (not unknown in Chult, apparently). Beatrix thought she might just be one of those wise old ladies nobody fucks with; Imran wasn't convinced.

Whatever she was, Madame Soran mentioned a small fishing village west of the island. The isolated village had "a certain article, a brass sphere on a chain" that she desired. "The superstitious fishermen protect it with their lives," she said, "but I'm sure a small raiding crew could steal it without much danger. Anything else you take is yours, of course."


In exchange for accurate charts and a small reward, the party accepted her offer. The next morning, somewhat hung over, they set sail with the tide.

Note: this next section, between the next two pieces of art, contains spoilers for Michael Prescott's adventure The God Unmoving. You've been warned.

Mark Peckham
The notorious fog of the Wretched Reef descended that evening. The sea monster Beatrix had spotted on their previous journey did not reappear. The four fishermen the crew had picked up on their journey to the Isla de Caracol were not thrilled about their destination; they hailed from the same fishing village the crew was going to raid and refused to participate. Gunter threw all four of them in the ship's "brig" (really just an empty arms locker) and threatened them with keel-hauling, trepanning, and anything else he could come up with. His threats had no effect.

By the light of the full moon, the party eventually found the Bay Unmoving. Gulling the sleepy sentries into letting them pass, the Majestic slipped into the harbour. The village was nothing more than a collection of shacks scattered on a series of bare stone islands. One "edge" of the village was made of a truly gigantic wreck, a broken ship larger than anything the pirate crew had ever seen. Imran speculated it was a treasure-ship from Yoon-Suin, though how it had come to rest here he couldn't say.

The raid was a debacle. Though  Beatrix tried to use the four capture fishermen as hostages, the situation rapidly spiraled out of control as the pirate crew, let loose on a sleeping island, began burning houses, smashing windows, and hauling anything valuable back to the ship. Approaching boats were sunk with cannonfire.

The PCs, with a hand-picked crew of raiders, rapidly rowed over to the colossal hulk to search it for treasures before the entire village could descend upon them. Their exploration did not go well. Although they found some gold and avoided a few traps, Gunter was devoured by hungry predatory fish in the bowels of the wreck. The remaining PCs found the "copper mace" they'd been sent to obtain. The mysterious relic was kept in a transparent bladder. When Beatrix touched the metal, her arm locked in place and green tendrils began to worm their way up her arm. Imran lopped her arm off and carried the half-delirious captain back to their boat, carefully keeping the relic inside its protective case.


According to Imran, Nyali, and several surviving pirates, their rowboat was pursued by a "great glowing sea-monster, a hundred-armed thing with a body made of light". They fended it off with pistol shots and bombs thrown into the water (Nyali exhausting her legendarily prolific supply of gunpowder), raced back to the Majestic, made sail, and tore out of the bay as quickly as they could. Though the Majestic was lightly damaged by their hasty escape and a few tardy pirates were, no doubt, lynched by the enraged villagers, but as the sun rose the crew of the Majestic were richer, if not happier, than they'd been the previous day.

Michael Prescott
Back at the Porta de Caracol, Imran hastily delivered the copper mace to Sarah Soran's fortress-house, then returned to check on Beatrix. She seemed to be dealing with the loss of her arm with remarkable composure, working closely with a carpenter to have a hooked replacement made. The crew was impressed.

Enriched by their labours, if slightly worried about sea monsters and "bad magic", as Nyali put it, the crew let loose with another riotous party. Convalescing in the Majestic, Beatrix came up with a long-term plan.

The Majestic would be renamed the Magnificient, re-dedicated, and repainted. It would be careened, a ludicrously undignified process, to clean and patch the hull. They'd take the ship south, pass through Valois and Tarraconese territory, then head out to sea for the long journey to Chult. That vast continent had barely been explored and Beatrix was sure there were vast profits to be made far from the reach of the Old World powers.


Attempts to recruit a trained navigator were unsuccessful, but Imran did manage to find someone with "sufficient book-learning" to read a chart.

John Wex the Bastard, a disgraced sailor with scraps of an education, was renown in port as an expert on "books of all sorts." With the authority of Bullfighter's Mythology, Fraiser's Golden Sticks, and Salty and Salacious Tales of the Sea Volume IV, John Wex could offer advice on any situation natural, supernatural, historical, or practical. His advice wasn't good but it was cheap.

After two weeks of work (for at least two hours a day), drinking, whoring, and fighting (for up to the remaining twenty-two), the crew of the Magnificient finally set sail. Nyali performed some obscure rituals to placate the wrath of the sea (all of which involved drinking more rum). The sea was calm and the weather was fine.

No ships were spotted for the first two days but on the evening of the third, with the sun fading, the lookout spotted lights on the horizon. The Majestic slowly crept closer in the dark. By the light of dawn the crew realized they'd come up on a slow-moving Tarraconese convoy, spread out by weather and by poor seamanship.

Beatrix picked out a slow-moving eight-gun vessel near the rear of the convoy and, with very favorable winds, approached from dead astern while flying a Tarraconese flag. When they were a few hundred yards apart, the Majestic ran up a red pennant (a traditional pirate flag), fired a warning shot, and hailed the vessel. After briefly attempting to flee, the ship hauled down its flags and closed its gun ports.

The reason for this abrupt surrender became clear when the Imran and company boarded the vessel. Their cargo was gunpowder; the entire hold was full of barrels. A single shot would have destroyed both the vessel and its crew. Beatrix ordered total restraint: the Tarraconese crew was spared, personal property of the sailors was not touched, and only the most choice cuts of meat and barrels of drink were taken, along with a hold full of the finest and driest Tarraconese gunpowder. John Wex, recognizing the value of paper, thoroughly looted the captain's diplomatic and trade documents.

Flush with success, the pirates put up the Valois flag and sailed into Red Sand Port. Combining all their expertise, they forged documents showing that they were legitimate traders in gunpowder; the Tarraconese marks on the barrels were hastily scraped off and replaced with inventive new designs. The tiny port welcomed these "legitimate traders"; pirates or not, they had goods to sell and the town's governor, Captain Henri Blane, was more than willing to buy. He offered Beatrix some advice on piracy and sent them on their way rich and happy.

From Red Sand Port, the Magnificient sailed towards the open sea, then cut south and away from the Merabaha Islands.

Two months later and low on food, the Majestic's lookout spotted the unmistakable grey line of the Mistcliff, the unmapped western coast of Chult. By luck more than skill, the crew had managed to hit the right continent, but they had no idea where precisely they were.

Would the PCs survive in this uncharted land? Would Captain Beatrix continue to avoid death and further dismemberment? Find out next time.

2019/01/14

OSR: Mob Rules

One of my favorite Dickens books is Barnaby Rudge. It's not my favorite - I don't think it's anyone's favorite - but it's got some very interesting features.

There's a standard-issue romance-murder-inheritance-mystery plot with the usual array of charming Dickensian characters (you don't have to look far on the internet to find an abundance of Simon Tappertits) but there's also, through the last chapters of the book, a colossal world-shattering riot. Society is upturned. The Mob is a living, breathing character in the novel. I've tried to give it OSR-style stats here. They're still undergoing testing. The final version will be published in Magical Industrial Revolution.

The Mob

HD: Varies. The Mob has HD (Hit Dice, d8s) based on its Cause. I've listed HP values to save  rolling if you're in a hurry.

20 HD (80 HP): Primal Needs (Food, Water, Money, Alcohol, The Good Life)
15 HD (60 HP): Infamous Crisis (as promoted by the Newspapers, see below)
10 HD (40 HP): Political Strife (Gumperts vs. Bogs)
5 HD (20 HP): Local Injustice (Police Brutality, Increasing Rent)
1 HD (4 HP): Obscure Cause (Vegetarianism, Outlawing Gin)

A mob's HP represents both its size and its willingness to keep rioting or protesting. Any attack that deals more than 3 lethal damage kills someone in the Mob and requires a Morale check (see below). Nonlethal damage still does HP damage to a Mob, but represents members being bloodied, knocked out, arrested, or driven off. When a Mob's HP reaches zero it disintegrates. 


Appearance: A shouting, sweating crowd of people, mostly drawn from the Middle and Lower classes. Men, women, children, excitable dogs, and chickens. They may have unifying emblems (blue cockades, red ribbons, leeks, etc.). A Mob takes up part of a street, an entire street, several streets, or a square, depending on its size and ferocity.

Wants: to satisfy its Cause. In the absence of a strong reason not to, to run riot, have a good time, set some things on fire, and generally Show Those Bastards.


Armour: none. Any attack directed against the Mob automatically hits it.

Move: 1/2 normal, but can move in 2 directions at once. Can't race you but can outflank you.

Morale: 8

The Mob must test Morale when:

-It is confronted with a number of armed authority figures (Coppers, soldiers, etc.) equal to its HD
-One of its members dies (it takes 3 or more lethal damage from a single source)
-It kills its first person.

Roll 2d6. If you roll over the Mob's Morale, the Mob disintegrates. Constituent members flee, drop weapons, give up, get arrested, or go into hiding. If you roll equal to or under the Mob's Morale, it becomes Bloodthirsty.


A Bloodthirsty Mob does not need to test Morale. The only way to stop it is to reduce its HP to zero.

A Drunken Mob can reroll Morale tests. It costs [HD]x10gp in cheap gin to get a Mob drunk for 1 hour.


Demagogues, righteous causes, unrighteous causes, military leaders, preparation, illegal drugs, mind-control spells, and other tricks can increase or decrease the Mob's morale at the GM's discretion.

The presence of the Monarch reduces the Mob's Morale to 2 and requires an immediate Morale check.

Damage: The Mob has a number of attacks equal to its HD (or current HP / 4 if damaged). With each attack, it can either

-inflict 20gp worth of property damage to a nearby structure
-set something on fire
-make an attack roll against an adjacent person, dealing 1d6 lethal damage on a hit

-chant, wave flags, and shout

Mobs are not utterly murderous. Even a Bloodthirsty Mob won't kill more than 1 or 2 people a round. Instead, the Mob prefers to loot, smash, burn, bruise, humiliate, and generally run riot. The Mob assumes you're with it unless you make a serious attempt to oppose it, you look rich and worth robbing, or if you're part of the group against its Cause.

Upgrading A Mob: 
 A Mob can grow larger (effectively healing itself fully and gaining extra HD) by changing its Cause and attracting new members. It can only do this if it's had 1 hour of completely unchallenged rioting. Under normal circumstances, a mob has a 1-in-10 chance of upgrading per hour. Proper demagoguery, a city on edge, or free gin may increase this chance. Causes with more HD have wider appeal than causes with fewer HD. What starts as a political rally could easily turn into a riot against foreigners of all kinds, then grow again to a general orgy of violence and looting when unemployed and angry agricultural labourers join.

GMs Notes:

Hopefully these rules adequately represent the Mob as both an asset and a liability. If you want to get something done you can raise a Mob and hopefully point it at your enemies, but there's always a chance it will run out of control and start destroying everything.

Newspapers in Endon

Papers are sold in the streets. Most are daily; some have morning, afternoon, and evening editions. Without subscriptions to support them, many papers mostly depend on lurid and inaccurate stories or ill-gotten scoops to drive daily sales. Everyone who can read does so; everyone who can has someone who can read them interesting or sensational stories. They're sold so cheaply that they're effectively free (unless a player wants to start a bonfire or something ridiculous).

Illustrations (via lithography) are expensive but increasingly common. Magical enhancements such as moving pictures and sound recordings start to appear at [  ][  ] and are ubiquitous by [  ][  ][  ].


1d10 Newspaper Names
1
Herald
2
Trumpeter
3
Proclaimer
4
Monitor
5
Speculator
6 Daily Connection
7 Universal Express
8 Metropolitan World
9 Inside Mail
10 Truthful Tribune

Every Innovation, Scandal, and Execution is reported with widely varying accuracy. Use the daily papers to drop hints and leads to your players. If they're stuck, if they're lost, if they've missed something vital, if you need to introduce an Innovation, put it in the paper. If they need a hint, say they've "read about it this morning" or "recall an article in the Spectator".

It costs 1d10gp to run an advertisement in a paper and 1d20gp to influence an editorial. To significantly influence discussion in the city Endon requires at least 200gp over 2 weeks period of 3 weeks. Threatening a few editors might also work.


It's possible to start a new paper. See Making Your Mark (not yet written).

2018/12/31

OSR: What Time Is The Apocalypse?

I'm trying to get back into the habit of writing. It's like exercise. Stop for a bit and all the muscles go flabby. If this post is below my usual standards, think of it as the first jog after the Holiday gorge.

I've been struggling to define when my pre-apocalyptic setting is set.


"Medieval", especially "medieval fantasy" seems to cover everything from Constantine to Cromwell. Joan of Arc, Robin Hood, and Richard the Lionheart all happened at approximately the same time; before muskets, potatoes, the printing press, and ruffled collars, but after togas, orgies, and chariot racing.

Well, this is Restoration-Georgian-Regency-Victorian fantasy. It starts with liberalism and social change and ends with the first World War, but it's more focused on the middle bit than the transitions at either end. Charles Dickens could meet Sherlock Holmes at a coffee shop to discuss the new "going-up-and-down-a-bit-and-then-moving-along Gertrude" cloth-weaving machine, and then leap out of the way of a coal-powered Omnibus full of soldiers newly returned from some poorly thought-out foreign adventure.

As Blackadder Series 1 is to Medieval, so Blackadder Series 3 is to this setting. It's Discworld's Ankh-Morpork but with a bit less furious optimism.

London, Gustave Dore

Endon

Is London. That should be obvious. Not the real, historical London but the London of a thousand movies and TV series and novels and half-remembered anecdotes.
   If your group is intimately familiar with London, then it's Hong Kong.
      If your group is intimately familiar with both London and Hong Kong then it's New York.
         If your group is intimately familiar with London, Hong Kong, and New York, then what the hell are you doing playing RPGs? Clearly you've got a lot more interesting things to do with your time. Maybe you should be the ones writing a book, did you ever think of that? No? Well too bad, it's your job now. 

How Do I Use This In My Medieval Fantasy Game

Endon is an outlier. It's a few decades or centuries ahead of the curve. This isn't necessarily good thing. Endon's rise is like a firework; lots of glitter and sparks, but fundamentally unstable. For a time it's on the cutting edge of creation, but the book is about a pre-apocalyptic setting. Something's going to give. It doesn't have to make sense forever because it's not going to last forever; it's a violently unstable brew.

Until it all falls apart (and possibly takes the rest of the region/continent/world with it), Endon is the place to
-buy the latest fashions
-buy the most potent weapons
-meet the most elegant, refined, beautiful, seductive, poetic, etc, etc, people.
-meet people from any part of the world
-sell magic items for the most money
-get leads on the most profitable ventures

If you have a problem, if no other generic medieval fantasy city can help, if you can find it, maybe you can reach Endon.
Just make sure to look both ways before crossing the street.


Send your players there to solve some unrelated problem and see what they do. Drop rumours of Endon into generic medieval villages; a city lit by a thousand ever-burning lamps, a city where actresses dance with princes and even the poor eat steak.
If magic is unrestrained in the campaign, D&D quickly degenerates into a weird wizard show where players get bored quickly, or the referee is forced to change the game into a new framework which will accommodate what he has created by way of player-characters.
-Gary Gygax, The Strategic Review II, 1976

The goal is to make Endon a "weird wizard show" where the players won't have time to get bored because the world is falling apart around their ears, or because they're too busy making money/gaining political power to care. It's a new, temporary, bolt-on framework.

Infinitely Great Britain

This one's a freebie, unrelated to the rest of this post. You can have it. Go nuts.

I've always wanted to run a Victorian Stargate game. Maybe not based on the actual Stargate TV show but something similar. Victorian dimension hopping. Taking all the most fertile aspects of the UK (as seen on TV only) and parodying them to hell and gone. The crossover to end all crossovers.
Let the flag of Infinitely Great Britain fly over every world. Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the planes.

2018/12/18

40k: Kill Team Update 2 + Inquisimunda

Gee, it's been a while. It's hard to type when your fingers are covered in superglue and your keyboard is covered in tiny plastic shavings. Don't worry, I'll be back soon enough.
The augmented warriors of the Adeptus Mechanicus look down upon their enemies and/or try to count the number of visible skulls on nearby buildings.
The Perfidious Eldar fight the Even More Perfidious Eldar.
The full terrain collection at the moment. The 1'x1' modular board segments very useful.
Kill Team (2018) is, essentially, a randomness-minimization game. You want to take as many good chances as possible and make your opponent take as many risky chances as possible. It's like chess.... except that a captured piece has a 50% chance to not be captured and you need to roll to see how many squares a Bishop, Knights, or Queen can move in a turn. And sometimes someone booby-traps your Rooks.

It's fun but it's not terribly deep. Some people on G+ were rumbling about using it as an RPG. I don't think it really works. Random chance is such a large component of the game that it's next to impossible to generate a narrative. The design space also feels very cramped. Everything is high-powered, slick, and superficial.

So while a Kill Team game is a fun way to burn an hour, I'd like to try to find a more interesting rules set. The rules used by the Inquisimunda/Pilgrym bloggers seem to very appealing rules set, given that it produces games like this. The rules are GLOG-like, in a way; cobbled together, highly adaptable, not really a system so much as a series of hints and hand gestures.

Vehicles from WarGameExclusive

Proposed Game

I haven't playtested this combo but I intend to give it a try.

Combat Rules: YakTribe's Necromunda Community Edition
I'm tempted to try out X-wing style alternative activations and see how badly it messes with the rules.

E.g. In the Movement phase, all models move in order of Initiative, lowest to highest, passing between players in the event of a tie. In the Shooting phase, all models shoot in order of Initiative, highest to lowest. So models with high initiative have a decent advantage; they get to react to other models' moves and get the first shots off. This should make the game feel a little more tactical and limit the dreadful waiting-around time that infests Gamesworkshop products, but it'll probably play merry hell with Overwatch and all that. We'll see.

Character Creation Rules: Iron Sleet's Rule of 12 (as summarized below)

Step 1. Take the basic Necromunda profile but with zero Wounds:

M WS BS S T W I A Ld
4 3 3 3 3 [0] 3 1 7

Distribute the following:

  • 12 Wounds (so 12x 1 wound models, 4x 3 wound models, etc)
  • 12 x +1 to any characteristic (max of
  • 12 skills from Necromunda (PDF pg. 69 - 91)
  • 12 pieces of equipment, armour, or weapons that aren't standard. All models come with a lasgun and a knife by default. (PDF pg. 33-57)

E.g.

I'd like to build a team with a Space Marine at its core. How much would a single Astartes cost?

M WS BS S T W I A Ld
4+1 3+1 3+1 3+1 3+1 6 3+1 1+1 7+2

Skills: Dodge (6+ save against all attacks), Combat Master (gains bonuses when outnumbered), Killer Reputation (causes fear), True Grit (reduces injury rolls), Juggernaut (can shrug off impacts), Hip Shooting (can fire pistol or basic while moving)

Equipment: Power Armour (3+ save, includes photo visor and infra-red goggles, 4 items), Boltgun (1 item), Combat Knife (0 items), Frag Grenades (1 items), One-in-a-Million Weapon (1 item)

12-6 wounds: 8 wounds remaining

12-9 characteristic upgrades: 2 upgrades remaining
12-6 skills: 6 skills remaining
12-7 items: 5 items remaining


Just one Astartes (properly kitted out) eats most of my points. The rest of the team might be chapter serfs, servo-skulls, recruited guardsmen, Alpha Legion cultists, etc.

Compare this to Kill Team, where a single team might have 5 fairly unimpressive Deathwatch marines, each with a single wound and a less-than-spectacular impact. A Space Marine should feel like an ancient unstoppable god-warrior wearing a personal tank.