Review: Kith’takharos One-Sheets

To round out this run of Kith’takharos reviews, here are the One Sheet adventures.

CONTENT

Spider Hunt is for 3-5 Seasoned PCs, and you won’t be surprised to learn that the PCs are commissioned to hunt down some Spiders Of Unusual Size. What is a little unusual, though, is that their webs have interesting properties, so the objective is to bring some back for study, and leave enough spiders alive to produce more in case the webbing is valuable.

The Repository is a small cave system for the PCs to explore. Maybe they find it themselves, maybe someone else reports it and they are tasked with investigating it. The inhabitants disapprove, either way. This one is for 3-5 Veteran characters.

The Hideout is for 3-5 Novice or Seasoned PCs, and lets them raid a small outlaw base.

FORMAT

The standard one-sheet format; two sides of full-colour adventure in three scenes, a monster, and a map. As usual for WHM products, the colour of the text boxes announces their purpose, and makes them easier to find.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

My eyes aren’t what they once were, and the amount of stuff compressed into these adventures makes the print small, thus hard to read. Small black letters on a dark green background in particular are troublesome. Layered PDF to let me turn off the colours would be appreciated, as black on white is a lot easier to read.

CONCLUSION

These fit nicely into the Kith’takharos setting, but are easy to move elsewhere, and are probably good for one session apiece.

An honourable mention for the new type of giant spider in Spider Hunt (I’m looking forward to trying that on the PCs).

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5.

Shadows of Keron Episode 13: The Skinner of Syranthia

The party reached Syranthia this week, and while most of them were off doing whatever it is the characters do when their players can’t make it, Gutz, Nessime and The Warforged become embroiled in the hunt for a serial killer. As ever when running a published scenario, I hold myself back to avoid spoilers, but the most memorable moments were…

  • Nessime’s casting of her Entangle power. She has some unusual trappings, and the trapping for Entangle is a horde of enchanted monkeys appearing from some improbable place and swarming over the target. This week her foe was standing on top of a barrel, so of course the monkeys were in the barrel. More fun than a barrel full of monkeys, as the saying goes.
  • The Warforged allowing the sages to measure and draw him in exchange for access to the Great Library. He wouldn’t let them take any samples, though.
  • Nessime persuading an encountered street gang to join them, arguing that they couldn’t allow murder to go unpunished on their turf unless they’d done it themselves.
  • Gutz persuading a priest that he was a member of an obscure religion he in fact knew nothing at all about, and then later persuading one of the Library sages that he was a famous third-generation taxidermist. That went well until he asked the Library’s chief taxidermist for tips on stuffing and mounting illegal subjects.
  • The Warforged taking the time to change to his Sorceror’s Spiked Frying Pan before his finishing move on the chief enemy thug. (He welded spikes to it some time ago, then there was an unforeseen accident in Gilaska which led to it being imbued with the qualities of a sorceror’s staff…)

The group finished this scenario in half the time I expected, deciding who the villain must be very early on with almost no evidence, and ignoring at least two major subplots along the way. Had their guess been wrong, things could have been even more entertaining.

As it is, as well as being wanted for desertion and murder by the army of Kyros, they are now also wanted for theft and arson by the Great Library, so they must move on in a hurry.

The paladin of Hulian tries so hard to do the right thing, but the rest of the party are just not on the same page…

The Price of the Lotus

Lotus concoctions are going to be a staple consumable for the party in Shadows of Keron, especially Healing potions. Cracking open Beasts & Barbarians, I see that with a Streetwise-2 roll one can find a potion, which costs $200 per rank. Lotusmasters only recover power points when the potion is drunk, and I assume they are wealthy enough to live well – this is because they must initially have had the status and time available to study, and now require expensive components.

How often the potions are drunk – i.e., how quickly the Lotusmaster gets his power points back – is a stronger constraint on manufacture than how long it takes to make a potion (a few hours).

Let’s say he needs to make $1,000 per month ($780 personal living expenses, based on the top end costs for food and lodgings in the Fantasy Gear Toolkit, plus whatever they need for savings/hobbies/family). That’s five Novice rank potions, which at an average of 2-3 power points per potion is about as many as a Novice (Lotusapprentice?) can make without recovering power points. Therefore, he must assume potions will be drunk within a month of sale; I can see fine print on the potion bottle saying "Best Before Month End".

Things follow from these assumptions.

  • Since the Lotusmaster’s income is driven by his power points, non-adventuring ones take the Power Points Edge as often as they can, starting with 15 points and gaining 5 more per rank.
  • Income is badly hurt by keeping back potions for personal use such as home defence. Lotusmasters need powerful friends, and/or bodyguards, and probably band together for mutual support. Outside of Gis, where presumably being in charge gives some protection, they are likely to hide, which explains why you need a Streetwise roll to find one.
  • Likewise, potions are mostly made to order, as having a concoction lying around in case someone buys it risks a 20% loss of revenue for the month.
  • Some sort of guild structure is likely. The Lotusapprentice lives in relative poverty and churns out Healing potions to fund his master’s more grandiose projects, but knows once he learns better powers he can command high wages.
  • Lotusmasters will try to sell potions that give them the most income (highest rank) for the least power point expenditure. These are Confusion or Succor for Novice rank powers, or Slow for Seasoned powers, so those are likely to be the most common concoctions.
  • The least common potions are likely to be high-powered versions of Blast or Blind at Novice, and Invisibility at Seasoned, because they have the worst income to power point ratios.
  • Most potions will be the minimum power point versions of a power (I can get $1,200 for three two-point Blast potions, or $400 for one six-point Blast potion).
  • The only Veteran powers a Lotusmaster has access to are Puppet and Zombie. It’s hard to think of a legal use for those. Puppet for keeping those uppity Lotusapprentices in line, perhaps.

An alternative pricing system would be $100/power point rather than $200/rank. That would keep prices roughly the same for most powers.

This makes me realise that using the No Power Points option for NPC Lotusmasters as well as PCs would remove the major constraint on how many potions there are in the campaign, and how powerful they are. I should think carefully about that before allowing it, but it would address the players’ concern about running out of healing potions.

Review: Seal the Rift

The final episode of the Kith’takharos adventures from Dave Pryzybla and Michael Galligan, published by White Haired Man. The Savage Worlds version is designed for 4-6 Heroic characters, and is 42 pages long.

CONTENT

Colour map of the region; introductory fiction; explanation of how and why the authors write adventures this way; GM background and adventure hooks; then into the meat of the book.

The adventure itself is in seven parts (scenes, encounters, call them what you will), and is a surgical strike into a three-level dungeon, aimed at recovering a lost artefact – the sole means of preventing the return of the Big Bads who caused the fall of the now-vanished reptile man civilisation which used to control this region. Recovering this item demands that they deal with numerous traps and guardians.

We close with appendices on new items and monsters.

FORMAT

The usual WHM approach; good, extensive use of colour. Illustrations for handouts are conspicuous by their absence this time, though.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

You can sing along with this one by now; layers in the PDF, please, for print-friendliness, and a single downloadable PDF of the setting on the website (under construction at time of writing).

CONCLUSIONS

You really don’t want to start Kith’takharos here. You should play at least The Nine Towers and The Dreamers Awaken first. You could start here and complete the adventure, but without the background and emotional investment in the setting built up over the last few adventures, it would be robbed of much of its impact.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 as part of the sequence, 2 out of 5 if played alone.

Shadowrun Episode 3: Super Nova, Part 2

I’m feeling lazy today, so no in-character stuff, just the bare bones.

Zanshin, the Refined European Troll, and the Technomancer followed the clues in their dead contact’s PDA back to a NovaTech building, where they concluded the deal.

The Johnson had overstepped his authority, and so got the 9mm version of severance pay, while the PCs handed over both cases to his boss and got paid. Unfortunately another group of mercenaries had followed the party, and burst into the meeting room. While the patron and his bodyguard escaped through a secret escape lift, the PCs held off the intruders.

This was a very bloody fight, as you can see from the stacks of wound and stun modifiers piling up under the figures – the Technomancer’s player referred to these as “Towers of Pain”.

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Towers of Pain – aka NovaTech Office, 15th Floor
Clockwise from top: Red samurai; technomancer; refined European troll; Zanshin; red samurai; cyborg minigunner; some sort of wizard.

At length, the PCs prevailed, thanks to having more Edge than the opposition, looted the office and left. Shortly afterwards, a grateful NovaTech official upgraded the van we stole last session, adding armour and a drone rack.

We’ll now switch back to Beasts & Barbarians for a couple of weeks.

The Cost of Living

I’m still experimenting with upkeep costs for my fantasy campaign.

Based on the costs in the Savage Worlds Fantasy Gear Toolkit, and assuming three meals per day, food and accommodation would cost:

  • $270 per month for someone living cheaply (cheap meals, room shared with 5 others)
  • $390 per month for the average character (good meals, shared double room)
  • $780 per month for someone living well (feasts, private rooms)

So, starting wealth being roughly one month’s upkeep still seems about right, once you allow for entertainment (all right, ale and whores then), ammunition, spell components and so on. It also matches $1 being roughly one copper penny historically, but there’s only one of my players who might know that, and he won’t care, so I’ll leave $1 as one silver Moon.

Where I’ve been going wrong, I think, is in charging PCs this much one per session – once per adventure seems more reasonable, since an adventure typically covers only a few days of game time but can take 3-5 sessions to complete.

However, to discourage people leading a string of ponies around behind them (The Warforged, I’m lookin’ at you), I shall charge them the "living cheaply" rate for each horse as well.

Review: The Dreamers Awaken

This 64 page book (or PDF, in my case) is the fourth episode in the Kith’takharos series, by Dave Pryzybla and Michael Galligan, published by White Haired Man. The Savage Worlds version, which is my topic for today, is designed for 4-6 Veteran characters.

CONTENT

The book starts with a full-colour map of the Kith’takharos region, some narrative fiction, and an explanation of the authors’ philosphy and purpose of the scenario. It then moves on into the usual background for the GM section.

The Dreamers Awaken builds on previous Kith’takharos adventures. Personally, I’d play them in sequence, but I think you could miss out the first two easily enough. It would be harder to drop players in who haven’t completed The Nine Towers, but possible using one of the adventure hooks provided.

The scenario itself is in seven scenes, so would probably last two or maybe three sessions of play. By now the PCs should know from earlier episodes that once a race of civilised reptile men lived in the region, and that their civilisation vanished. By the end of The Dreamers Awaken, they will know what happened to that civilisation.

The essence of the adventure is to find a dungeon, explore all three levels, and emerge victorious with the knowledge needed to begin the next adventure in the series, as well as some useful relics.

FORMAT

As usual for White Haired Man products, this make good – and extensive – use of colour. Different types of text are pulled out in different colours, and there are a number of illustrations to use as player handouts.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Use layers in the PDF to make it more printer-friendly.

Duplicate, or collate, the handout illustrations at the back of the book. As it stands, I need to either cover up bits of it and show the players only what they need, or print out a second copy and chop it up.

It would be clearer to me if the "Place" sections in this and earlier adventures appeared in the right place in the adventure; pulling them out to a previous section confuses me, I’m afraid.

CONCLUSIONS

One of the staples of the genre; kick down the door, kill the monsters, and steal their loot. Underneath that, however, is the ongoing story of what happened to the dungeon builders, which I’m quite interested in by this point.

Overall rating: 2 out of 5 on its own, but 4 out of 5 as part of the sequence. It depends heavily on the previous adventures – nothing wrong with that, but if you like Kith’takharos, this is not the place to start.

Shadowrun Episode 2: Super Nova, Part 1

So we’re sitting in the Pervy Magpie, which is not the cleanest diner in the Sprawl, but does have a relaxed attitude towards firearms, when Burtha the waitress comes over.

We do not upset Burtha, on account of she is a troll and weighs somewhere north of 280 pounds. We do not even ask how she manages to balance those glasses on her nose. She takes our order, flirts with the Refined European Troll, and gives us a scrap of paper which we open up without touching it any more than we have to, because it might have come from the kitchen. It has a number on it, so we call the number.

It is answered by Frank the Fixer, who is now operating at our level due to his original employers having a bad attitude to their money still “resting” in his account, wherever that is, and also to him turning state’s evidence on them. Frank tells us that he knows a guy, who knows a guy, who knows a guy who has a job for us. He gives us the contact details and hangs up, while I am still wondering how a dwarf can wear that much bling and still be able to wave his hands that fast.

Augments, probably.

Not long after that, we are sitting with a Mr Johnson who gives us sundry items and maps to facilitate breaking and entering at a corporate facility. He wants us to bring him a briefcase, which we will then switch for another briefcase, which we will bring to him. He will then give us details on where to pick up our pay.

We explain to him that this is unnecessarily complex, and we would be happier to bring the case to him and get paid directly, without stops along the way. It looks like he hasn’t done this before, so we also explain that it is customary to offer some money up front as a gesture of good faith. He is not inclined to take our word for this, but after some spirited negotiation with our Elf Lady Face, he offers us his van and a credstick with 5,000 nuyen on it, which is a start. We explain to him in numerous ways that his health could suffer if he fails to pony up the rest of the money once he has the case.

A while later, geared up and ready to dance, we meet up outside the target building and sneak in through the sewers. This is not my favourite approach, you understand, but it has the advantage that Mr Johnson has – he tells us – arranged for there to be no security between us and the exit from the sewers. I cannot help wondering why he needs us, if he can do that, but it’s his money. Correction: It’s our money now.

Our Technomancer manages to hack the cameras and doors, so we stroll in to the target room and find the briefcase, also a black cat with flashing green eyes. This looks remarkably similar to a cat we saw outside the Stuffer Shack last week, but that one did not talk to us, or evaporate into thin air after doing so. For the moment I am inclined to attribute this to some unidentified biowarfare agent in the air conditioning, which is also a handy explanation for the ghoul that leaps on us, only to evaporate itself. We grab the case and run, which is just as well, because at this point our technomancer stumbles into Things Man Was Not Meant To Know in the building net, alarms go off, helidrones with machineguns emerge from the walls, and in general a good night out gets spoiled.

We do manage to get out, though, and the building blows up behind us. I hope that this does not become a habit, or at least that the Pervy Magpie is immune.

It’s raining by the time we reach the abandoned warehouse block where the case switch is to happen. Our Troll Rat Shaman hides out down an alleyway, myself and the Refined European Troll set ourselves up on a rooftop, and the Elf Lady Face and the Technomancer hang out at the crossroads.

The first clue that something is amiss is that our contact arrives dead in a shot-up car. The second clue is a helicopter full of Red Samurai intent on getting the case back. The third is a truck with some sort of giant gun-toting cyborg. Our two street-level chicks are able to persuade the Red Samurai that they are just passing through, but the cyborg opens up on them, dropping both of them and also some Red Samurai who happen to be behind them. Hilarity ensues as the Technomancer and the Rat Shaman completely confuse the cyborg, and myself and the Refined European Troll shoot the Red Samurai, one by one, and then the cyborg’s handlers. While this is going on, the Rat Shaman turns invisible – at least if you do not have thermographic vision augments I myself do – and grabs the second case.

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“Hilarity Ensues”
Clockwise from top: Whiskey cake tin representing the cyborg-toting truck; cyborg and handlers; Elf Lady Face and Technomancer (near the crater); Zanshin and Refined European Troll (on rooftop); assorted Red Samurai and crashed car (dice box); summoned rat. The Rat Shaman is invisible at this point.
Battlemat: Wydraz. Figures: eM4.

We loot the truck the cyborg rolled up in, and discover enough medpacks to heal up our wounded. We now have two cases, and more confusion than we like to have about what is going on.

Time to request an explanation from Mr Johnson, or at least the rest of our money.

Grammar Nazi

Authors and editors of RPG products! Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please…

Many of you are abusing my beloved English language. I would like you to stop, because it is both wrong, and irritating. I shall set aside as far as possible my views on the use of American English, and on matters of style, for they are not mine to denigrate. Those of you whose native language is not English (and many of the best RPG products at the moment hail from Italy or Poland), you are forgiven, not least because I could not do half so well in your languages.

However, where those of you who are native English speakers are wrong, I would like you to mend your evil ways. To wit:

  • The piece of text at the end of your book is not an "Afterward". It is an "Afterword". Likewise, the piece at the beginning is a "Foreword", not a "Forward". If you know this and use the wrong one on purpose, be aware that this not cute, it is jarring.
  • A horde is a large group of creatures, such as rats. A hoard is a collection of objects, such as treasure. Please use the correct one to convey your meaning.
  • An apostrophe denotes possession or contraction, not plurality. For example, "it is" is contracted to "it’s", and a collar belonging to a dog is "the dog’s collar". If you are tempted to write "fruit’s" when you mean more than one fruit, i.e. "fruits", see me after class.
  • They’re vs there vs their. The apostrophe again stands for a missing letter in a contraction; "they are" has become "they’re". There indicates a position at some distance from the speaker ("It’s over there.") Their denotes possession ("They drew their swords.")
  • Lay vs lies. Something lies before you in the present tense. It lay before you in the past. Please use the correct tense.
  • "Decimate" means "kill every tenth person", not "inflict heavy casualties".
  • Big bugs are "giant arthropods", not "giant anthropods". An anthropod is a bipedal humanoid.
  • "Cannibals" are creatures that eat members of their own species. If they eat humans, but are not humans themselves, they are not cannibals.

Your spelling checker will not alert you to these because they are not misspelled (although it might complain that "afterword" isn’t a proper word – ignore it, it is wrong). Your grammar checker might, or might not, depending on how well the programmers understood English grammar; and my guess is that was not a key criterion in hiring them.

This has been a public service announcement. Thank you for your time.

Review: The Nine Towers

The third Kith’takharos adventure, Savage Worlds version.

At 84 pages, this is the biggest of the Kith’takharos adventures. Written by Dave Przybyla and Michael Galligan, and aimed at 4-6 Seasoned PCs.

CONTENT

The book begins, like its predecessors, with a colour map of the region, an explanation of how and why the authors design adventures, and an outline of the scenario, which has 10 events or encounters. The introductory fiction is quite a bit larger than in the earlier works. There are four different adventure hooks to draw in the players, depending on whether they played through the earlier scenarios or are fresh into the village. Personally, I think it would work better with a group of players who have already gone through the first two adventures.

Given that they are mentioned on the front cover, it’s probably not too much of a spoiler to say that this episode revolves around a vanished civilisation of reptile men. The PCs will cross swords with outlaws, investigate reptilian ruins, discover an interesting (if dangerous) way to move around the region quickly, talk to the undead, and – if they’re good, and lucky – recover a lost artefact.

The adventure has a linear beginning and end, but has some scope for free will in the middle. This is part of the reason the adventure is long, as descriptions of what the PCs find are conditional on what has happened before. (Also, there are a number of ruins to explore, rather than just one as in earlier installments.)

The GM also has a section explaining who the ruin-builders were, and what happened to them. This includes notes on their magic and floor plans for a typical ruin, along with detailed contents of each of the nine the PCs may encounter. I applaud the inclusion of a one-page cheat sheet summarising the location, purpose and properties of each.

There are six pregenerated characters in case your players don’t have any of their own, and a few adventure seeds.

FORMAT

At the risk of repeating myself…

Extensive use of colour throughout, which is not kind to my printer I fear. Full colour maps and diagrams; cream page background; green boxes for descriptions and blue ones for game mechanics; orange boxes for sidebars; pictures to use as player handouts.

Statistics for opponents are presented in a logical place within each encounter, and all the ones you need for a given combat are on a single page, or facing pages, so there’s very little page-flipping. This is a Good Thing and other publishers could learn from it.

SUGGESTED IMPROVEMENTS

There are a number of references to things (e.g. plants) explained on the White Haired Man website. I’d prefer to have these collated into a PDF file for easy download, and to be fair I understand the authors are working on this.

I’d prefer it if the PDF file used layers so that I don’t have to print the coloured background on every page.

CONCLUSIONS

This one reminded me a lot of the old Traveller adventure, Twilight’s Peak. I expect it to be much more exciting than the earlier two; watch out for the session writeups later in the year!

Rating: 4 out of 5.