Hex Map Pro and the Dread Sea Dominions

One of the first apps I bought for the iPad was Hex Map Pro, which turns it into a game board (£2.99 from the App Store). You can use the built-in facilities to create a board, which are limited to colouring in squares or hexes; or you can import a picture, rescale it, and overlay a grid on it. Then, the app lets you create and label counters to move around the map. There are no built-in rules, so it isn’t tied to a particular game; and no automation, so it’s easy to work out.

I intended to use it for playing THW games without having to haul out terrain or minis, and you’ll see some examples of that in due course. It took me a while to realise how useful it would be for other things, though; here’s an example screenshot.

DSD_Hex

I loaded up Beasts & Barbarians Golden Edition on the iPad, and took a screenshot of the map, which I saved as a photograph. I cropped off the margins using a free picture editor map, then imported it into Hex Map Pro. I then resized the picture so that it was about 30 hexes tall, which in my version of the Dominions makes one hex about 125 miles (that makes it easy to zoom in to 25 and then 5 mile hexes if I ever want to do that). Finally, I saved it as a new gameboard in HMP, and created one token (the green one labelled “Party”) to show the group’s current location.

One screenshot later, you get the picture above. I like it.

(I remember doing the same thing in the late 1970s with a map, a photocopier and a plastic sheet that had hexagons printed on it. This is a LOT faster and easier.)

Review: B&B Hero Construction Set

I’m not a big fan of cardboard figures, but I was intrigued enough to get the Beasts & Barbarians Hero Construction Set from Okumarts Games; partly because it relates directly to my main current setting, and partly because of the way it uses PDF layers to create variations on the basic figures.

CONTENTS

One sheet of 12 pregenerated figures, and one sheet of 12 customisable figures. In each case, you have one each of Northlander, Amazon, Tricarnian, Valk, Rogue, Ivory Savannah Tribesman, Cairnlander, Gladiator, Lotusmaster, Monk, Sorceror and Red Desert Nomad. The Rogue and Amazon are female, the others male. There are some instructions, adverts and a front cover also, each as separate files.

On the pregenerated sheet, there are three versions of each figure, mostly variations in colour scheme. On the customisable sheet, each figure has three choices for his or her head, torso/arms, and legs. I haven’t tried all the possible variations yet, but with 9 possible versions of each of 12 figures I won’t run out any time soon.

FORMAT

Large, layered PDF file. Like most standee figures, the art is a little cartoony, but you see enough of it before you buy to know what you’re getting. The use of layers is good, especially the ability to turn off text.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I would have liked female versions of some of the other characters, and perhaps a male rogue, but you can get close to those by picking the right set of body parts so that’s a nitpick.

Another nitpick is that I would’ve liked to see a drow-style jet black option for the Tricarnian; but I can see where that would be a bit iffy to print. It took me a while to work out that the Tricarnian is in some sort of martial arts crane stance, which is why his right leg and left hand look a bit strange.

CONCLUSION

If you like standees, these are good ones. When printed out, they look a lot better than I would have expected from viewing them onscreen, probably because they are farther away – the usual thing about figures needing to look good at arms’ length, on a table, rather than right up next to your eyes.

I’m not sure they will tempt me away from my pewter and plastic, but over a hundred different figures for $5 and the cost of printing them is a price point other options can’t match; and the ease of replacing them means I won’t be so bothered if they get dropped, eaten by cats, smashed by small children, etc.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

5150: New Beginnings–Character and Group Creation

I’m in a gaming rut at the moment, and a flurry of real life interruptions has disrupted my regular players, so I decided to get THW’s 5150: New Beginnings and try that out.

I use the Arioniad as a testbed for new rules – that’s part of the reason why there are so many retcons in it – so I open the rules with the idea of using Halfway Station as an orbital city where the action takes place, and converting Arion, Coriander and Dmitri into NB characters for a test run. Like other more recent THW products, NB takes a programmed learning approach to easing you into the game; as you read the book you’re encouraged to create a Star, recruit a group, try out the reaction tests, and so on. So this post, which will take me through character and group creation, is part Arioniad season 3, part review of 5150 NB, and takes me up to about p. 35 of the $20, 176 page PDF.

With 5150, THW has split its sci-fi offering in two; Star Army, which is aimed at squad and platoon-level actions, and New Beginnings, which looks at a small band of desperados. In the designer’s notes, Ed Teixeira says that this decision came from noticing that his customers were split between wargamers and RPG gamers, and wanting to tune the rules for each.

Characters and Group

Let’s start with the PCs. Race (Basic) and gender are obvious. I prefer to play humans, but in NB I or my minions could also have been Grath (REALLY tough thugs), Hishen (little blue-grey slavers and crooks who have a sort of group mind), Razors (fast, terrifying thugs), Xeog (good-looking, power-hungry, blue-skinned), or Zhuh-Zhuh (berserker space apes). Or, I could have made up a new race using the Alien Attributes tables.

Looking at p. 6 I see that as well as Stars and Grunts (roughly equivalent to SW Wild Cards and Extras respectively) there is now a third option, Co-Star, much as in Larger Than Life. In 5150 NB, Co-Stars are midway between the other two; they have a reduced amount of Star Power (which allows them to avoid damage sometimes), Larger Than Life (which means they can’t be killed by inferior opponents) and Cheating Death (which means they can voluntarily lose one Rep – the most important character stat – to avoid death).

I decide Arion is the Star, and Coriander and Dmitri are both Co-Stars. I also notice a new advantage, one I haven’t seen in earlier THW games: Bonus dice. The Star gets as many Bonus Dice as his Rep per encounter, which he can use alongside his usual dice for reaction tests etc. This means Stars can improve their chance of success on a few chosen dice rolls during the game.

A character’s Rep determines his hit probability, morale, and a few other important things. As the Star and my personal avatar in the game, Arion starts with Rep 5, which is pretty good. I decide the Co-Stars should be Rep 4 ( under the recruiting rules on p. 33, Arion can’t recruit anyone with a higher Rep than that).

I can see from p. 8 that I need to pick a Class for each character, which determines the reaction tables it uses, the available Professions, and who can be in the Star’s group. THW games revolve around the reaction tables, and the various races and “character classes” are differentiated by having different ones; so the same dice rolls for a reaction might make different characters under fire duck back, run away or return fire. Rather than min-maxing the reaction tables, I decide to skip forward to the Professions on pp. 13-16, and pick Class based on the Profession I want each character to have.

After flipping backwards and forwards a bit, I decide all three are the LWC class (“Law-abiding Working Class”), which means their basic Motivation (p. 9) is Survival, rather than Duty or Profit. The characters’ Professions and primary skills (more of those later) are: Arion – Pilot (Sav), Coriander – Doctor (Sci), Dmitri – Dealer (Pep). There are no obvious spy or psion classes, so I picked ones that seemed close to how the characters have behaved to date.

Next, attributes. Rather than dice for these, I select them from the tables on pp. 9-11 based on the SW stats. This gives Arion, Exceptional Pilot (Ace) and White Knight (Heroic); Coriander, Charismatic (Attractive); and Dmitri, Smooth (Investigator). I debated whether to give Coriander and Dmitri two attributes like a Star, or one like a Grunt, but since Co-Stars are theoretically promoted from Grunts, I decided on one in the end.

Now I move on to skills. Each character has four skills; Fitness, People, Savvy and Science. One of these has a skill level equal to the character’s Rep, one has Rep-1, and one has Rep-2; others are at level 0. Fitness must be at least 1. This works out very quickly and easily, with all the characters’ skill levels matching half their relevant SW die types.

As usual in THW, you’re encouraged to count the character as armed and armoured with whatever its figure has; this gives Arion and Dmitri a Big Ass Pistol and an ordinary pistol each, and Coriander an assault rifle (what!?). By the time I get to p. 24 I see that everyone can have a Local Comlink, so add those to the pile.

On top of that, there are the “items” rules on pp. 83-85. Pretty much anything is an item, and 5150 takes the view that it’s all about playing the game, so if your character wants a spaceship, just give him a spaceship and move on. You get 3 items per point of the Star’s Rep (15), plus one per game month, plus one for each recruit you did not take when forming your initial group (3 in this case, as a Rep 5 Star could have 5 minions, but I have only taken 2).

That gives Arion 18 items for the group. We’ll have a Long Range Comlink each, the Dolphin as our spaceship, an aircar as a runabout, a dozen spiderbots in the repair swarm, and a godown at the starport as our cover business.

All of this took about an hour, which was probably extended by not being familiar with the rules.

Final Statistics

  • Arion: Rep 5, Pilot (LWC), Exceptional Pilot, White Knight, Fit-3, Pep-0, Sav-5, Sci-4. BAP, pistol, LR Comlink.
  • Coriander: Rep 4, Doctor (LWC), Charismatic, Fit-3, Pep-2, Sav-0, Sci-4. BAP, pistol, LR Comlink.
  • Dmitri: Rep 4, Dealer (LWC), Smooth, Fit-3, Pep-4, Sav-2, Sci-0. Assault rifle, LR Comlink.
  • Group items: Spaceship, aircar, 12 spiderbots, starport godown, 3 x Local Comlink.

Update at +1 hour: I see from p. 34 that each Grunt brings 2 x Rep items to the party, which gives us another 8. We use 3 to buy Armoured Jackets and bank 5 for a rainy day.

Update at +2 days: Yes, well spotted, that should be another 16 items. Blimey, we’re rich. Another 3 used to buy Universal Voice Boxes for translation, and bank another 5 for a total of 10 in the bank. I’m starting to wonder whether characters get too many items, but I always try to play using the Rules As Written for a while before I start messing with them.

Review Thoughts So Far

Character and group creation is simple and straightforward, and it was easy to convert my troupe from SW to 5150. I expect creating a new troupe would be easier, but I’ve become attached to these rascals over the last few years. I’ve noticed before that the simpler character creation is, the higher the mortality rate among new PCs; the simple system suggests I might get through quite a few characters, but let’s see how that goes.

One of my concerns in getting NB was how complex the skill system would be. However, as long as you stick to one Profession it’s very straightforward; only if you train in multiple professions do you need several different types of Savvy or Science.

The 5150 aliens don’t interest me much, but then I invariably play humans in any RPG, so that is probably me rather than the game. I think The Warforged’s player would want to be a Grath.

Equipment – or “items” – are handled with a very broad brush indeed, which suits me just fine.

Overall, I’m delighted with my purchase, as usual when I shop at THW.

PBEM Experience Awards

Now that I have Play-By-EMail players using Savage Worlds and Labyrinth Lord, I need to consider how to award experience.

Points for roleplay or good ideas can follow the usual SW rules, but since SW experience is largely driven by the number of sessions, what constitutes a session?

Fortunately, Larger Than Life and Mythic both work in scenes. In a face to face session I would expect to get through 3-4 scenes, and award each SW character 2 XP per session on average; so, one experience point per two scenes is about right, awarded about every 4 scenes.

For LL characters, I can use the D&D 3.5 advice – level up after 13.33 encounters (i.e., scenes) on average, which gives them almost exactly 7.5% of the experience needed for the next level after each scene. Come to think of it, I will round that up to 10%, both to make the calculation easier and because, given how slow PBEM play is anyway, the PCs need a little help – at my usual average of one scene every 1-2 weeks, it will take PCs about 3 months to level up.

Note that I won’t count LTL travel scenes unless there is an event or encounter of some kind, as at the table I would represent them as something like "you travel for days across the flat, dusty landscape, always alert for Valk outriders, but fortunately you don’t meet any".

Job done. And I can also use this for my solo PCs – Arion has been adventuring for years without a single experience point to his name, poor fellow…

Review: The Pacts of the Wise

Kevin Crawford has been busy again. I’m at least four products behind on my obsessive quest to collect all of Sine Nomine’s output. We can’t have that now, can we?

The Pacts of the Wise is a free 10-page web supplement for The Crimson Pandect (also on my wish list), which is the magical expansion for SNP’s line of Labyrinth Lord goodies, following Red Tide (campaign setting) and An Echo Resounding (domain-level play).

CONTENT

Cover, introduction, six example pacts (each illustrated with the symbol of the relevant entity), one page of OGL, one page advert for an adventure written by KC for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess RPG (shiny!).

Essentially, a magic-user or elf (race as a class is alive and well in Labyrinth Lord) can make a pact with an entity – not yer Elder-Gods-Crawlin’-Chaos type of entity; something a bit less dangerous, but still powerful enough to do useful favours. In exchange, the entity requires rituals, sacrifices, and/or abiding by certain taboos.

The favours are not overly powerful on the face of it; I hesitate only because the cunning of players knows no bounds, and something that looks innocent enough to me might become a tool of global destruction or domination in the hands of (say) Garstrewt, or The Warforged.

Each entity gets a page to itself, with details of how to make and break pacts with it, a picture of its symbol, a new item, a couple of plot seeds, and details of what the entity does to the wizard if he displeases it.

FORMAT

The usual SNP layout; printer-friendly, content-rich, and with high information density. This is what I prefer, personally; but I am well-known for placing content above format.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I got nothin’. Move along, nothing to see here.

CONCLUSIONS

Cracking stuff as usual, easily introduced into any other fantasy game setting. I think I shall use the scenario seeds in my Beasts & Barbarians game as well, the Lovecraft/Howard feel of them would fit right in.

Rating: 5 out of 5 (which translates as "Can’t wait to use this stuff!" – in fact, I’ve already started).

The Chalice of Tishab: Jalizar, March 2510

Here are the first couple of scenes of this PBEM scenario, run in the Beasts & Barbarians city of Jalizar, but using Labyrinth Lord, Red Tide and Mythic instead of Savage Worlds. Compare and contrast with the adventure Gratitude of Princes, occurring simultaneously in Jalizar, but using Savage Worlds and Larger Than Life. Because I can.

I wanted to show how I set these two zero-prep PBEM games up, and how the first couple of scenes went, as examples of what can be done with my toolkit; having done that, I’ll let them fade into the background, and focus on face to face and solo play. I’ll give you summary updates as and when there is a lull in the fighting in the other games; we have a rash of weddings and wedding anniversaries coming up over the next few months, so it should only be a few weeks until that happens.

SCENE 1

Our hero is Stan, 1st level human thief. Stan’s first goal is to get some money, his second objective is to engage a stout retainer to act as a meat shield, as he is concerned about only having 3 hit points.

The first is easy, or relatively so; Grandfather Yusheng does not let hands stay idle long, for the hands must gather money to feed the mouths, yes? He summons Stan to his office, which smells of incense vainly trying to cover the odour of fish.

“Stanislas,” says the Grandfather after the usual pleasantries, “It is time for you to begin earning money for the Society. One hand washes the other, yes?” Stan nods.

“Well then, I want you to recover something for me. A common thief, not someone associated with our Society, has stolen a precious item from a lady under our protection. This is not to be tolerated. You will recover the object, and ensure that Stern Master Jing is able to teach this ruffian respect for us.”

Grandfather Yusheng goes on to explain that the object is a cup of mottled peach and lavender jade; that its rightful owner is the lady Aspasia, a wealthy matron, of a certain age yet still lovely; and that she is most insistent it should be recovered immediately.

This is the Chalice of Tishab, from Pacts of the Wise, of which more shortly.

“Your test of initiation into the Society begins,” the Grandfather continues. “Now: What else do you need, or need to know? This answer, too, is part of the test.”

Stan politely enquires of Grandfather Yusheng if it is known where the miscreant can be found.  Also, do we know if the item has left his possession yet?  Is he associated with another organisation?  (i.e., is Stan in trouble if he stiffs him?)  How does Stan identify him?

At this point, I pull out Mythic and turn to the Fate Chart, which I use to answer Stan’s questions. Note a key principle of zero-prep play here; the player is doing the work of generating the scenario. This also ensures that play develops in a flow that seems (a) logical and (b) congruent with the player’s expectations.

Does Yusheng know where the thief is (I have no preconceived ideas, so I set the Odds row to 50/50, and cross-reference it with the default Chaos Factor of 5)? I make a percentile die roll, 23, and looking up the intersection of the column and row I’ve selected on the Fate Chart, I see that 23% is a “yes”.

Does the thief still have the item (A Near Sure Thing)? 48% – yes.

Is the thief associated with another organisation (No Way)? 47% – no.

How does Stan identify the thief? Hmm. Logically, to know where he is, Yusheng must know who he is. I don’t, and don’t need to, yet.

Does Yusheng know who he is because in his ignorance he has approached a fence associated with the Fish Heads (50/50)? 04% – exceptional yes. Using the NPC tables in Red Tide I determine that this person is called Liu and is always snuffling. OK then, Frozen Liu, known for the unsafe brazier which always glows at his feet, and his continuous feeling of being cold.

None of these percentile rolls came up doubles, so there is no random event. This is the only rule of Mythic that I keep forgetting, so I mention it here mostly to remind myself. I think it should be mentioned in a footnote of the Fate Chart, for vague folks like myself. But I digress.

“Good,” says Grandfather Yusheng. “I do not know where the thief is now, but at dusk he will be at Frozen Liu’s pawnshop; in his ignorance, this fellow approached a pawnbroker associated with our Society to sell the cup. Truly, the gods favoured us this day. So, you can tell that the thief is not himself associated with any of the organisations we know about, or he would have gone elsewhere; and also that he still has the cup, or he would not need to sell it. Frozen Liu can point him out to you when he enters.”

I wondered whether pawnshops would be anachronistic, so paused for a quick Google, and discovered that pawnbroking as a business goes back at least 3,000 years, and most British law relating to them is based on Roman jurisprudence. Who knew?

“Will that be all?” Yusheng’s poker face, and the clouds of foul-smelling smoke from his incense burner, mean Stan cannot tell whether he expects more questions or not.

I update the Chaos Factor, which stays at 5 as Stan is no more or less in control of events than before; the Character List, which now has the four basic NPCs from before, Lady Aspasia, Frozen Liu and the as-yet-unnamed thief; and the Plot Thread list, which now has “Recover the Chalice of Tishab” on it.

SCENE 2

Stan makes his way to Frozen Liu’s pawnbroker emporium, where he finds Liu snuffling (as always) and huddled around a burning brazier, muttering to himself about how cold he is, and how expensive fuel is. Stan introduces himself, and explains the player’s plan.

“If this person leaves with the cup, we might not get it back, and if I don’t trap him in the shop he can flee – and I run the risk of losing him. So, honourable Liu, I would ask you to buy the item.”

“Whaaaaaat?” asks Liu, aghast at the thought of paying for the chalice and then having Grandfather Yusheng relieve him of it.

“Calm yourself, Father,” Stan continues, before the expected explosion can occur. “Once you have the cup, I will meet this fellow inside the doorway and pick his pocket. We shall get the cup back for its owner, and get your money back for you.” Or, he thinks to himself, I die gloriously trying to stop the thief when it all goes horribly wrong. Either way, he is determined not to let Grandfather Yusheng down.

I begin by rolling 1d10 vs the Chaos Factor. I get a 6; since this is more than the Chaos Factor, the scene plays out as expected, rather than becoming an Altered or Interrupted scene.

Does the thief arrive at the pawnshop as expected (Very Likely)? 97% – Exceptional No. I make a mental note to increase the Chaos Factor at the end of the scene, as Stan is now losing control.

Does someone else come instead (50/50)? 17% – Yes. Oho, a new NPC.

Is it a friend of the thief (50/50)? 04%, Extreme Yes. Hmm. Why send someone else?

Is the thief expecting trouble (Very Likely)? 31% – Yes.

Did he send a tougher friend to make the exchange? A thug maybe? (Likely) 96% – Extreme No.

A wizard, then? (Unlikely; how would he know one?) 46% – No. Here you see one possible down side of Mythic; you can flounder around for some time before you get to the next answer.

How about one of Aspasia’s maids (50/50)? 71%. I’m getting bored now, so I use GM Fiat to overrule this. Yes, it’s a maid. She is attractive, because this is pulp, and in pulp any new female character is either (a) good looking or (b) hideous; I think this must be the thief’s girlfriend, so therefore cute, and they plan to use the proceeds of the sale to escape together. The thief knows that by now he is a hunted man, but hopes the girl may not yet be a known accomplice.

Dusk comes and goes, and Stan waits in vain for Frozen Liu to tip him the wink about his target entering. Stan amuses himself by memorising, as far as he can, who enters, what they drop off, and how much Liu offers in exchange. You never know when that will come in handy.

It comes as a surprise to both Liu and Stan when an olive-skinned young woman enters in a cloak, looking over her shoulder in a way that catches Stan’s eye – partly the normal reaction of a young man to a pretty girl, and partly the reaction of a trained thief to someone who thinks they might be being followed. He catches a glimpse of a silver slave collar, a plain dress under a dark green cloak, a smooth, symmetrical face with full lips and flashing brown eyes, and shoulder-length, curly black hair.

The shop is deserted, apart from the three of them. The girl approaches the counter, and pulls an object from inside her cloak; it is the chalice.

“Our mutual friend is indisposed, but he told me you’d be interested in this cup,” she says. Liu appraises it closely.

“It is unlike any I have seen before,” he muses. “Well-made. No maker’s marks. Heavy jade. Hmm. How much do you want for it?”

I look up the equipment list on p.16 of Labyrinth Lord and decide it is equivalent to a vial, worth about one gold piece, if you don’t know what it does.

Do the thief and his girl know the chalice is more than it seems (A Sure Thing)? Yes.

The girl takes a breath and squares her shoulders, obviously screwing up her courage. “A hundred gold,” she says, firmly.

“Girl,” Liu laughs out loud, “I grant you it’s well made, but it’s just a cup. I’ll give you a silver for it.” Stan mentally pegs this as about 10% of what a new one would cost, and decides that Liu is expecting to haggle, and would eventually pay perhaps three silver. The girl’s face falls.

Does she run out in tears (50/50)? 66%, no, and because I rolled doubles, a random event. Oh goody. Now I pull out the event tables, and roll 47 for the Action, and 74 for the Subject; Travel and Liberty. This fits nicely with what I think she needs the money for, but I’ve already decided that, so I think instead she’ll drop a clue for Stan.

“But… but we… I need that money. We have to get away. And I know it’s worth more, a lot more, Lady Aspasia keeps it locked up all the time.” Liu snorts.

“What you need it for is not my concern. What the Lady does with it doesn’t matter. Two silver; no more.” The girl haggles in a spirited manner, but Liu won’t  budge.

At length, she storms out, calling over her shoulder: “May the worms eat your eyes, you miserable miser!”

End of scene 2. I update the Chaos Factor to 6, add the girl to the NPC list, and leave the plot thread list alone because I don’t think a new thread has emerged. All of this took longer to write up than it took to play.

Stan is still lurking by the doorway, affecting interest in a moth-eaten quiver. What next, I wonder?

Advances and Levels

Now that I’m running the Dread Sea Dominions for a player under Labyrinth Lord, I need a fast, furious and fun way to convert NPCs from SW to LL. I think the easiest way to do this is to count the number of advances it would take a stock Beasts & Barbarians character to get from a beginning character to where he is now, add one (because he would be first level before having any advances), and call that his level under LL.

For the range of levels I’m interested in, that would roughly match the Pinnacle d20 Conversion Guide, but be less work.

As an example, let’s take Priest Prince Baaltasar, demonologist of this parish. To save myself time, I use the statblock for a standard Priest Prince from B&B Golden Edition pp. 185-186 for this NPC. Looking at those statistics, I can see he has:

  • 8 points in attributes; less 5 for a beginning character is 3 advances.
  • 22 points in skills; less 15 for a beginning character is 7 advances.
  • 6 edges. Less the free one for being human, and two for hindrances, leaves 3 advances.

Baaltasar has thus taken 13 advances to get where he is today; add one for being first level at 0 advances, and we have a 14th level wizard. I just have to select some spells to match the ones the archetype has listed, and I’m done; but that isn’t something one does where the players might see…

Review: Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion

I was curious about how this differed from the earlier fantasy toolkits, if at all; and when those cunning blighters at RPGNow introduced a discount for items that have been sitting on my wishlist for a while, well, how was a chap to resist?

SUMMARY

The Fantasy Companion is the Savage Worlds supplement for GMs running a fantasy campaign, and judging by the comments on the Pinnacle forum, most people use either a published setting, or the core rules and this companion, when setting up a fantasy campaign.

My view on first flicking through this was that I had wasted my money, as there was so much duplication. However, I warmed to it a little on a more detailed reading. What you get is most of the content from the Wizards & Warriors genre pack and the Fantasy Toolkits, merged into a single, better laid out book.

CONTENT

A lot of this has been covered before in other SW products, so the Companion is perhaps best thought of as an optional upgrade. Chapter by chapter, then…

Characters (8 pages)

First we look at races; there are eight fully-statted races: Dwarf, elf, hobbit halfling half-folk, half-elf, half-orc, human, rakashan (cat-people), and saurian. After this are rules on languages (the half-Smarts optional setting rule) and creating new races. SW Deluxe has these rules already in the core rulebook, but SW Explorers’ doesn’t. The free Wizards & Warriors genre pack has most of the stock races.

Next, new Edges. Familiar lets your mage PC have a familiar; Adept, Assassin, and Troubadour allow you to play a D&D-style monk, backstabbing thief, or bard respectively; Knight is not quite a paladin, but would do nicely as a C&C knight. Other Edges mostly reflect racial abilities. All of the Edges are new if you only have SWEE, although a few of them overlap with the W&W pack and a couple exist in SWD.

Gear (11 pages)

Adventuring gear overlaps quite a bit with the core rules, although shelter, clothing, food, etc are expanded upon. Weapons and armour are new items, not ones from the main rulebooks. I have got to work the pump-action crossbow into play somehow, it’s just too cool for school.

Sidebars in this chapter explain long-term overland movement rates by terrain, and there is quite an extensive (by SW standards, anyway) section on siege warfare, including a price list for fortifications and siege engines.

Arcana (27 pages)

This chapter expands on the core rules in the area of magic and miracles.

First we get a list of templates for deities; god of justice, goddess of healing, god of war and so on. Each of these is described in terms of aspects (that’s "domains" for you d20 players), duties, sins, and a list of the powers to which the god grants his priests access.

Next up, new arcane backgrounds: Alchemy, sorcery, ritual magic. Alchemy lets you make the casting roll in the privacy of your own laboratory and get some expendable patsy to deliver the spell to its target; sorcery grants the innate ability to dispel other castings; ritualism is slow and steady, but less risky than other approaches. The default assumption of the Companion is that AB (Magic) excludes healing powers, but you can always change that. Arcane Backgrounds are commonly rewritten for each new setting, as one of the key things that differentiate milieux is the way magic works; so this is more useful if you are creating your own world.

Third, an expansion on trappings – what are the mechanical effects of saying your Bolt power has a trapping of fire vs ice vs lightning? This is already part of SWDE and (in a less detailed form) the World Builders’ Guide, but new for SWEE.

Fourth, a full spell list, including all spells in the core rules. There are 55 powers in the FC, compared to 50 in DE and 31 in EE; I liked the increase in available powers from Explorers’ to Deluxe, but the Companion didn’t have a "killer app" for me in the powers department.

Treasure (53 pages)

This is mostly an extensive random magic item generator, almost identical to the one in the Fantasy Gear Toolkit as far as I could tell; the main difference I spotted was the optional treasure table with black powder weapons in it. There’s also the treasure type table from the Fantasy Bestiary Toolkit.

If you have the Toolkits, as I do, this section is of limited value. If you don’t, it will give you a D&D style treasure generator.

Bestiary (56 pages)

Again, if you have the Toolkits, this is of limited value. It repeats some, but not all, of the monsters in the core rules, and adds statblocks for a number of common human and demihuman encounters, as well as a range of monsters not found in the core books – mummies, naga, gargoyles and what have you; a subset of the Fantasy Bestiary Toolkit.

What’s Missing?

Almost all the world creation and nation-building stuff from the World Builders’ Guide, as well as some of the spells. A variety of monsters, the random encounter tables, the traps table, and the adventure seeds from the Bestiary. I didn’t spot anything missing from the Gear Toolkit, but given the difference in page counts I suspect there is something.

What’s New?

Magical black powder weapons. Statistics and costs for fortifications. A wider range of god templates for priests to follow.

What’s Different?

The Toolkits explicitly said they were guidelines only, and didn’t feel that tightly integrated to me. The Companion is a single, prescriptive piece – more "this is how it is" than "you could do it this way if you feel like it". Your call whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

FORMAT

This is nicer than the Toolkits on several fronts; better art, better layout, ability to suppress page backgrounds via Acrobat layers (rather than having one version of the file with, and one without).

Also, I prefer to have a single file (the Companion) rather than three (Bestiary, Gear, and World Builders’ Guide).

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

The Fantasy Gear Toolkit included Edges allowing a character with AB (Magic) or AB (Miracles) to create magic items – potions, scrolls, relics and whatnot. The Fantasy Companion does not, and I would prefer that it did; that comes down to an individual GM’s interpretation of magic.

Pinnacle sometimes use "Explorers’ Edition" to refer to the size of the book, and sometimes to refer to an edition of the rules. I’d prefer that they used different terms, to reduce the chance of confusion.

One thing that would be really useful to me is a summary sheet for all the Powers, like the ones for Edges or Weapons. I keep meaning to do my own, but inertia rises triumphant.

My favourite bit from the Bestiary Toolkit was the traps table, and I’d like to see that here too. Go on, Pinnacle, you know you want to – it’s only a quarter page.

CONCLUSIONS

This seems to have been written with the Explorers’ Edition rules in mind (for example, the Guts skill is still included, although not a setting rule), rather than the Deluxe Edition, so it’s less useful if you have the latter.

It also seems aimed at GMs converting or creating their own world, rather than running a published SW setting – setting books cover most of this territory in a more focussed way, so again, less useful if you’re already intending to play Evernight, Beasts & Barbarians, or whatever.

Finally, I’d say there’s a deliberate design decision to duplicate entries from the core rules in a number of places, though not all; that’s good if your priority is to avoid flipping through several books to find something, and bad if your priority is to pay for a particular piece of text only once; your call.

Overall Rating: Tricky, but I’ll go with 3 out of 5. I could see the rating being anywhere from 2 out of 5 to 4 out of 5, depending on what other SW products you have. I’ll use some bits of it I’m sure, but it’s going to be a reference work rather than something I feel the need to have on hand constantly.

The Fish Head Gang: Jalizar, March 2510

Or, with a nod to Greywulf: Grand Theft Donkey – Jalizar.

The third PBEM player has kicked off with a human thief, and he is playing under Labyrinth Lord, since he prefers D&D to SW. So, as a parallel experiment to the Gratitude of Princes, his plotlines will be developed using Mythic.

Now, I could start a new city, but instead I’ll drop him in Jalizar with Bjorn and Ochirtani. I know Umberto Pignatelli is working on a Jalizar sourcebook, but I haven’t read it yet; so I turn to Red Tide for the background – the PC, currently known as Stan after a character in an Eminem song, has specified working for a gang on the docks. I’ve already made up a gang, the Fish Heads, and there’s no reason to create another so soon, thus Stan works for them. As much of Jalizar’s population is Imperial, thus culturally Graeco-Roman, Stan is probably short for something like Stanislas.

The Dockers’ Friendly Society

Modifying the standard tong writeup in Red Tide according to things committed to in email exchanges with Bjorn and Ochirtani, I get this… The Society began as a brotherly fellowship, a group of otherwise unrelated men – and occasionally women – who banded together for strength in negotiating with the wealthy and powerful, providing for the widows and orphans among their numbers and ensuring that their dead are accorded a decent burial; sort of like a union. During the three-year siege by the Valk, it developed into a more venal organisation, and now maintains a regular commerce in thievery, extortion, vice, and other criminal pursuits along with its charitable work.

Disputes over territory and revenge for insults often result in street fighting between the Society and rival gangs. The group is also known as the Fish Head Gang from its tradition of leaving fish heads by the bodies of those who have wronged it.

It is organized loosely, with a Grandfather presiding over a circle of Fathers composed of the wealthiest and most influential members. Beneath them are the Elder Brothers who have contributed substantially to the Society’s goals, and the Younger Brothers who have yet to prove their value to the organization. One of the Fathers is the Master of Rites, charged with conducting initiation ceremonies and sacred festivals, while the Stern Master oversees internal discipline and oversees the enforcing of the Society’s will on outsiders. The Honored Sage manages administrative and financial matters, while the Favorite Uncle aids in negotiating disputes between fellow tong members.

Rolling 1d6 on the Persons of Importance table on RT p. 85, I see there are three NPCs of importance. Rolling a number of d10 on the Tong table on p. 89, I get the following definitions of their title, power source, and other NPC connections:

1, 7, 4: The Grandfather, who is a notoriously tough and dangerous person, is connected to the orphaned child of a gang member. I’ve decided the gang should be mostly Jademen, so I use the Imperial names table on p. 149 of Red Tide (Chinese is close enough to work, although really these should be Tibetan names) to determine that he is called Yusheng, and the Noticeable Quirks table on p. 154 to find that he is very thin.

7, 7, 3: The spouse of a member, who is also tough and dangerous, and is connected to the widow of a gang member. She shall be known as Zhilan, and wears religious emblems. Oh, I know; flaming skulls embroidered all over her clothes, I read somewhere that Tibetans wear flaming skull emblems to ward off demons.

2, 3, 4: A Father, extremely popular among the Younger Brothers, and also connected to the orphaned child of a gang member. He will be called Jing, and carries his work tools constantly. I’ll make him the Stern Master, and his work tools can be a fish-gutting knife.

Immediately, I decide that the new PC – Stan – is the orphaned child and a Younger Brother, and that the widow is his mother (technically, you only have to lose one parent to be an orphan, although we normally use it to signify someone who has lost both). That gives me four NPCs to fill in off the bat. I should also mention Furritus and the Brass Dragon to Stan; I decide that simply walking into the docks and asking to see the Grandfather leads to a noisy and one-sided conversation with Jing’s knife, so instead potential patrons make their interest known via Furritus.

Next I roll 1d10 on the Conflicts table, Red Tide p. 86, and get a result of 8: Need. One of the people desperately needs an object or land owned by another. That makes most sense to me if the Father needs something owned by the Grandfather.

That all took about 15 minutes, and gives a nice set of background for the newly-minted thief. Once he has digested this and come back with a fleshed-out PC, we’ll set up a scenario for him. More of that next time I look at this particular thread.

The Gratitude of Princes, Scene 2: Jalizar, March 2510

Well, the players have proved very interested (excellent) and we moved on rapidly. As ever in PBEM though, there are a lot of exchanges per scene, and I won’t work through those here – in this post, I’ll focus on how I use Larger Than Life to drive the plot forwards.

At the end of scene 1, the patron – Prince Baaltasar – had commissioned the PCs to recover the Mandible of Xarigas from one Makis, purveyor of antiquities and curiousities. I decided to make things more interesting by having them turn up to find the House of Makis on fire, and Makis himself as a mangled body in the arms of a sobbing woman.

We’re now in a Story Advancing Scene, Scene 2, which means the PCs must succeed at a skill check of some kind to gain a clue. First, though, I roll 1d6 to see if the Big Bad is present. I roll a 3, so he is not (LTL p. 34). Incidentally, notice that I have no idea who the Big Bad is yet. I don’t need to know at this point. Strictly, I should now roll as per LTL p. 34 to find the person, but the scene above was so interesting I didn’t bother, and decided it counts as searcher passing 1d6 more than quarry.

One of the key lessons for this kind of thing is that story trumps rules.

The Star (PCs) must now make an Opposed Task Challenge to see if they retrieve the information. I decide this will be in two steps, and use Savage Worlds trait tests rather than the THW Challenge rules; first, the PCs must make a Healing roll to stabilise Makis, which will be hard as neither of them have Healing; then either a Persuasion roll (if he lives) or a Notice roll (if he does not) to gain a clue.

“Quick!” cries Bjorn. “Let us see if he still breathes and whether anything can be rescued from the blaze for ourselves or for the woman.”

Bjorn has specified trying to help Makis, so he rolls for Healing. Skill 1d4-2 gives him a result of 3-2 = 1, but as a Savage Worlds PC he also gets a Wild Die of 1d6. Rolling 1-2 = -1 doesn’t help him though, and Makis expires in his wife’s arms. No clue for Bjorn today.

“Elyena,” Makis chokes, “I’m so sorry… They didn’t believe me…” Then he dies.

Meanwhile, Ochirtani (whose Major Hindrance is Curiousity) is ferreting about and makes a Notice roll. She gets a 3 on her skill die and a 4 on her Wild Die; a 4 on either one is a success, so she notices something useful. In LTL terms it doesn’t matter what, so I have a free hand, and decide it will be something left behind by Makis’ attackers. I decide to park that for now and see where they go next before I determine what the clue is.

Just for fun, I make a Notice roll for Bjorn as well – in PBEM and solo play I tend to roll Notice whenever there might be something interesting. Bjorn’s Major Hindrance is Greedy, so when he rolls a 6 followed by a 5 for his skill (Notice d6) and a 6 followed by a 2 for his Wild Die (1d6), I decide he has noticed Makis’ strongbox, filled with his savings. Elyena will be destitute without it, but Bjorn is Greedy – surely he deserves it more than she does? I like to give PCs moral choices.

Bjorn finds himself unable to meet Elyena’s eyes, and looks away, into the wreckage. His eye is drawn to the twinkle of silver; smashed open nearby is a small strongbox, with silver coins spilling out of it.

Anyway, while Bjorn is thinking about that, I roll on the Advance the Story table on p. 30; Star Rep (which I’ve decided counts as 4) + 2 x number of Clues (1) + 1d6 (5) = 11; they need more information from someone. Under the Rules As Written they should only get +1 per Clue, but in my experience that is too slow, so I usually double it. Both PCs are new to Jalizar, but they did request a slave guide from Baaltasar, so he can point them in the right direction.

I have no particular view of who the next person they talk to should be, so I roll 2d6 on the People List for a Metropolis and get a score of 3+3 = 6; a specialist. What should his special skill be? I prefer the SW skills list to the LTL one, so I roll randomly on the summary list of skills (SWD p. 44) using a d23(!) – OK, so it’s 1d4 + 1d6; 3 and 6 gives me an 18, which counting down the table is Streetwise. As Jalizar is the City of Thieves, I decide to introduce a criminal gang – the first name that comes to mind for these is the Fish Head Gang, inspired by a vaguely-remembered fantasy novel whose author and title escape me, and the contact they’re after will be called Furritus (Latin for “Little Thief”, and the origin of our word “ferret”).

Ochirtani, with the instincts of a hunter, squats by the couple. She notices a fish head discarded near Makis, and picks it up. A fish head, this far from the docks? Unusual. She also notices the slave blanch when she picks it up, and back away slightly.

By GM fiat, I’ve decided to keep the focus of this adventure in Jalizar, so the mandatory Travel Scene is the Stars moving to another part of the city on foot. Strictly speaking you can’t go to a Metropolis – which is what I’ve decided Jalizar is – on foot, but am I the GM or am I the GM? I roll for encounters (which occur on a roll of 1 on 1d6) and get a 2, so no encounters yet. I roll 1d6 to get the time of day for the next Story Advancing Scene, and get a 1: daytime. Now I have enough info to write the next in-character piece.

“What?” asks Ochirtani of the slave, whose name she has not yet asked, but which on a whim I decide is Erebus. She advances on him, waving the fish head. “This means something to you, yes? What is it?”

“The Fish Head Gang,” he stammers. “It is their mark, the one they leave to warn others.”

“I must know more about this,” she says, flatly. “Who can tell me? Can you?”

“N-no, master,” he says. (Ochirtani is in fact a girl, but since Valk men and women dress alike, and Valk men are known to be beardless, it’s an easy mistake to make. The voice is perhaps a bit feminine, but Erebus is not going to risk pointing that out to a demon-worshipping Valk with a scimitar.)

“Speak to Furritus, at the sign of the Brass Dragon. He will know.”