Arion: Witness Protection

"So, what do we want to do this month?" asks Arion.

"The law firm," says Coriander, firmly.

"Dima?"

"I’m with her. The dealer says we interviewed well but we’re not quite what he’s after, and the trader’s only enemies right now are the cops. Since they pay the same, we may as well stay legal while we can."

"Whaddya mean, while we can?"

"You’ll see…"

February sees Arion back on form and doing a security job for a law firm. I decide that this means protecting a witness at a safe house, largely because I fancy a change of map. The safe house is outside the city (gasp!) which gives it Law Level 2, and the encounter occurs Late in the day, in fair weather.

ENCOUNTER

The encounter will be successful if the player tactical group survives without being arrested or suffering a wound result worse than Stun.

I also fancy a change from random PEFs. This far out of town, I’ll start with one PEF which will automatically resolve as gangers, hired by a rival law firm to eliminate a key witness. (Just what kind of law firms are these, anyway?)

Turn 1

2012092025

Here’s the setup at the start of turn 1. Battlemat: The Caravanserai from Cry Havoc Fan. Figures: eM4. Figures on white poker chips are on the roof. Black dice show the limit of Arion’s vision at night at 2” per hex. (Memo: Buy NVGs.)

Turn 2

2012092027

Arion hears something over by the palm tree and walks to the roof edge to investigate. Meanwhile, the PEF splits.

Turn 3

2012092029

A busy turn! The PEFs resolve as three Gangers and three Hishen, and rush for the nearest window. As Arion is looking that way, this triggers an In Sight test and shots are exchanged. Arion is shot in the head (again) but uses his Star Power to avoid an untimely death. Cori runs to the window and burst-fires her assault rifle at the oncoming Hishen hordes, missing them all because they fast-moved, but outgunning them and forcing the Hishen to duck back.

2012092030

Those who can’t get into the nearest cover (around the corner) fall prone at the end of their move instead.

Turn 4

2012092031

Arion’s team fail to activate. The Hishen regroup around the corner, and the Basic gangers use their activation to climb in through the window.

Turn 5

2012092033

Arion is awake again and kills one ganger with a well-placed shot from his Big A$$ Pistol. Coriander is back in business too, steps back out of melee range, and drops the other two Basics with a short burst – both are now bleeders, and went Out Of the Fight when they tried to heal themselves, so I removed them before the next picture.

Dmitri grabs the witness and runs towards the “stables”, where the gravsled is parked. This would have triggered an In Sight test so they were fast-moving to spoil the enemy’s aim, but the opposition was all down by the time they came into view.

The Hishen are not impressed and spend the turn wondering what to do next.

Turn 6

2012092034

The Hishen decide their bravery rule is enough of a help, and burst around the corner, guns blazing. A lucky shot Knocks Down Arion and stuns him. Again. Muttering “If you want something doing, you have to do it yourself,” Coriander hoofs it over to the stairs and goes up onto the roof.

Meanwhile, Dmitri and the witness are still fast-moving towards the gravsled.

Turn 7-8

2012092035

Nobody activates on 7, but on 8 the Hishen swarm up the walls and through the window. Our Heroes fail to activate and spend the turn doing… well, whatever tactical groups do when they don’t activate.

Turn 9-10

2012092036

Arion, who is the only one who can fly the gravsled, runs across the roof towards the stables trapdoor, trusting Cori to cover him.

The Hishen barrel out of Building 4 into the courtyard, where Cori has taken cover on the roof and sighted in on their exit point. Trusting to Hishen Bravery (their Rep goes up for some tests when they are in groups), they sprint out – Cori shoots them up, and although she misses, they Duck Back into the nearest cover, which is another building.

Turn 11-12

2012092038

In a moment of pure comedy, a PEF emerges from Building 4. Both sides, uncertain whether they might be LWC who will call the police, hold their fire. The PEF resolves as four Dropouts.

The following turn, the Dropouts wander into Building 3, blissfully unaware of the firefight erupting behind them as the Hishen burst from cover again (hey, it worked last time) and charge the stables. Arion leapfrogs Coriander and kills one outright, and the other two Duck Back – in different directions, as they must move towards the closest cover.

Coriander moves to the trapdoor and opens it, clearing the way down into the stables.

Turn 13

2012092039

Cori fast moves up to the gravsled, and as she gains LOS on the Hishen at the corner, kills it outright. While she provides covering fire, Arion moves back to the trapdoor under cover, and Dmitri and the witness move into the back seat of the gravsled (a flying sedan for rules purposes).

Turn 14-16

Arion makes it to the gravsled and climbs in on turn 14, and spends turn 15 turning it on.

2012092044

On turn 16, Arion guns the gravsled out of the stables, intending to fly over the remaining Hishen and off the board. This triggers another In Sight, Coriander hoses the well down with autofire, and the Hishen hiding behind it runs for his life into Building 6. Sensibly, the dropouts stay put in Building 3.

Aftermath

Another successful mission. Arion gets +2 Items, +5 Fame and a Rep increase (to Rep 6), but the others get a measly +1 Item and fail to improve. We do get an Involuntary Encounter this month (February) – someone will try to rob us using the Robbery Encounter. More of that next time.

Reflections

  • I should’ve parked the gravsled closer to the building we were holed up in. Running the length of the stables to get to it could have gone badly wrong.
  • It’s often worth fast moving even if you don’t get any extra distance, because it makes you harder to hit.
  • I’ve been wary of letting the group split up, wanting to keep them within the 4” unit integrity distance of the Star, but actually at Rep 4 they are capable of behaving sensibly. The use of fire and movement along the stable roof worked very well.
  • Still getting the hang of the new camera, sometimes the pictures are blurry even when my Star hasn’t been shot in the head. Also having trouble with using MS Paint to add captions, but nothing a little practice won’t fix. You’ll just have to put up with it while I learn.
  • Being a Rep 3 ganger (as four of them were) sucks.
  • I’m comfortable enough with the rules now to throttle back from my NB binge – however, playing 2-3 times per week for a month gave me confidence in my understanding of the rules and meant I learned them more quickly. I shall return to a more sedate once per week or so now.

Arion: Dances With Xeogs

"Jack, I hear you’re going out into the barrio again. Are you sure that’s wise?"

"Hey, what can I tell you, I’m a businessman and that’s where the business is today. But, just to show you I do listen sometimes, we can go out before dark."

The second month of the bodyguard contract (December) finds Arion, Dmitri and Jack out in the daytime in the lower income area; Cori is staying home, as Rep 5s often do in Chillin’ encounters. I’ve already diced up the rest of the mission background last time. This means Law Level 2 is in force and there are two PEFs on the board to start with. The encounter will be a success if all three of the player tactical group survive without being arrested or suffering a result of Bleeder or worse.

ENCOUNTER

Turn 1

2012091917

Arion, Dmitri and their patron, the smuggler Jack Rattenbury (Rep 5, BAP) saunter onto the board. PEFs don’t activate, but watch the one at the top right of the picture.

Turn 2

2012091918

Arion’s group continues across the board. One PEF stays where it is, chatting to the turn counter die, while the other emerges – Arion has LOS and it resolves as three Xeog Bounty Hunters. Since I want to see some combat this game, I overrule the dice and decide that these have been hired by JR’s competitor (also a Xeog) to take him out. I roll In Sight tests, and only then discover everyone is out of range, even after the Xeogs fast move forwards.

Turn 3

2012091920

Arion and company take cover where they can – a building doorway. This is well worth it as it means the Xeogs have to roll at least a 9 to hit them – mind you, with Rep 5, they do that a lot. The Xeogs fast move up to the corner and open fire (red dice show the number of passes for the In Sight test), but this means the unarmed Rep 3 Xeog falls behind and is now on his own. I mean really, what was he thinking coming out with two heavily armed Rep 5 bounty hunters? Must be a noob.

Turn 4

A lull in the fighting. Everyone checks their weapons and scans around for more hostiles. No more PEFs though.

Turn 5

2012091921

The remaining PEF decides to come and meet the PC group so starts moving around the buildings. The Rep 5 Xeogs break cover and trigger another In Sight test as they run across the street to the opposite corner; this results in an exchange of shots. Arion misses them (Dmitri and JR are still out of range) but between them the Xeogs get three OD headshots on Arion. It takes all his Star Power and bonus dice to survive, and even then he is Out Of the Fight.

2012091922

The Xeogs carry on through their received fire test and make it to the other corner.

Turn 6

2012091923

The Xeogs decide to remedy their tactical error by having one dodge back across the street while the other provides covering fire. Dmitri hits the one running, though, and she’s down, stunned and a bleeder. JR mans up and comes forward to the door, but misses everything. The Rep 3 Xeog continues to move around the buildings – my thinking is that while she has no gun, if she can get close enough she make a melee attack. Meanwhile, the last PEF resolves as three Zhuh-Zhuh dropouts. For some reason, all the dropouts in my game seem to be Zhuh-Zhuh, and vice versa.

Turn 7

2012091924

The Xeogs shoot JR, killing him outright. I guess any future smuggler employers will be a different character. Dmitri returns fire and with some amazing dice rolls shoots both Xeogs in the head, killing them instantly.

Game over, man.

“Cori? Yeah, it’s Dmitri. Do me a favour would you, bring the gravsled around to 919 Lakeside and pick us up… and hurry, Arion’s hurt pretty bad. Oh, and you’ll need a body bag for Rattenbury…”

AFTERMATH

That is a definite loss for the home team. No pay for Arion this month, and –5 Fame, but fortunately neither he nor Dmitri lose any skills. Dmitri drags Arion’s bleeding carcase back to the apartment, where Coriander heals him and prescribes one month of bed rest, so we miss January. Neither December nor January had any involuntary encounters.

Is there a warrant out for their arrest? I think not. If I read the rules correctly, with no LWC on the board to call the police and no police on the board to call for backup, there’s no evidence of what actually happened.

REFLECTIONS

THW games always punish poor tactics, and in this case I made a bad call for the Xeogs. In turn 5, I think it would have worked better if one of the Rep 5s stayed on the corner to pin down the player tactical group, while the other went around the back and through the buildings to catch them in a crossfire. I seem to be taking more decisions for the NPCs in 5150: NB than a THW game usually requires.

Shadows of Keron Episodes 18-19: Vengeance of the Branded Devils

An unusually long session this week, in fact two sessions back to back. In the first one, the party polished off Wolves in the Borderlands, although they made another enemy in the form of a Caled druid. In the second, they reached Gis, unloaded the Holy Handkerchief of St Veronica for laundering, and were then summoned by the Ninth of Twelve, one of Gis’ master alchemists, who sent them on a mission into Zandor, allowing me to run the introductory scenario in the setting book, which might have been tailor-made for Athienne and Garstrewt.

No spoilers, but here’s pretty much what I said after they had set a trap for some bandits in a small village… You know the village I’m talking about, Umberto…  Smile

“So, if I understand you correctly, this is your plan…”

“The Warforged is concealed in shrubbery outside this hut, holding on to a rope you have buried in the dirt; as the bandits ride into the village, you will pull the rope taut, unhorsing the leaders. Garstrewt has moistened the same area with oil and is hiding in the hut opposite with his McGyvered catapult, ready to launch a burning cloth or something into the oil. Abishag has loaded his Potion of Blast, which he bought in Gis, into a sling and will fire it at the bandits while they are getting up and sorting themselves out. Athienne is standing here, where everyone is inside her Command radius.”

“By the way, you do realise that will have no effect whatsoever, as the rest of the party refuse to acknowledge her as leader. Yes? Doing it anyway? Fine.”

“Meanwhile, to entice the bandits into the village through that opening, Alihulk and Peter Perfect are displaying themselves doing manly things to show what good slaves they would make. Specifically, they are sitting on the pile of cabbage you brought to the village, drinking beer.”

What could possibly go wrong? Not much, as it happened. They even took prisoners, although The Warforged and Alihulk interpret their Bloodthirsty hindrance to mean not only can they not take prisoners, but nobody else in the party can, either; so the prisoners lasted about 90 seconds, that being how long Alihulk’s player (who has medical training) advised someone would take to bleed to death through a severed brachial artery. As he said later, “Cutting people’s arms off is not a viable interrogation technique.” As The Warforged replied, “I’m not trying to interrogate them.”

It astonishes me sometimes what the party are vicariously capable of; but when some years ago I researched what their actions would really mean and described it to them in detail, it was not much fun for anyone, so now I just drive on.

If only the party would acknowledge a leader, he or she could order them not to do things like that; but they won’t. See previous comments re: Number of Scoobies in party… Fortunately, Athienne has good Tracking skills and a background allowing her to use Common Knowledge to figure out some of what’s going on. Meanwhile, the posse has saddled up and is riding out after the bandits, following their tracks back to wherever they came from.

Arion: Getting The Lead Out

“So, Mr Rattenbury…”

“Jack, please, Arion. Call me Jack.”

“OK then, Jack. The word is you’re looking for a bodyguard detail, usual rates. What’s the opposition?”

“There’s a competitor of mine who thinks I owe her some money. She might take the law into her own hands, you understand? I need protection for the next three months.”

“We can start right away. My associate Dmitri and I will take the first shift. What are your plans?”

“I’m going out on the town.”

Arion shrugs. “I’d advise against it, but it’s your neck and your money.”

“Yes. Yes, it is. I’ve got things to do, people to see, you know how it is…”

It’s been a while since I got access to Table Mountain, but today I managed it, and decided to pull some figures out and have at it. The battlemats are by Wydraz, the figures by eM4.

Now that I’m more comfortable with the rules, I’m bringing in a few more, specifically the legal and court case side of the campaign and vehicles. When doing this, it’s important to note that leaving the table is often counted as Resisting Arrest, which is a Major crime and can easily cost you 5 years’ hard labour, and that each outstanding crime on your rap sheet gives -1d6 on your roll to be acquitted. So, my thinking is that it’s better not to let the charges rack up, and it’s also better to go quietly unless you’ve committed another major crime. We’ll see; given that LWC encountered always call the cops, and as a White Knight Arion can’t shoot witnesses out of hand, I anticipate spending a lot of time in court.

I’ve worked back through the recent adventures and corrected the items and equipment the team should have. It also looks like I should keep track of encounter and interview results for employers, so I’ve done that too. However, I’ve decided not to track Fame and criminal charges separately; in these regards, the crew stand or fall together.

Meanwhile, tonight’s mission is to escort Jack Rattenbury through a Lower Income Residential district in the evening, using the Chillin’ encounter as a template. Before we start, Arion and Co. use some savings to get an apartment in the middle income residential district (more comfortable than the scoutship in the long term), and three webbers, to give them a nonlethal combat option – I’ve been looking at the rules for major crimes and I don’t like the look of the jail time.

ENCOUNTER

This post isn’t a didactic one, but I am trying out Microsoft Paint as a way of adding captions to the photographs. See what you think.

The encounter will be successful if Arion, Dmitri and Jack survive it without being arrested or suffering any wound results of Bleeder or worse.

Turn 1

2012091801

The boys are back in town. I’m using my old Warhammer 40K objective markers as PEFs – they’re actually some sort of bead I bought a few years back when my daughter was going through a beading phase. The big die is a turn counter; its primary purpose is to stop me getting the pictures mixed up when I write the post. Those of you with keen eyes may notice that Dmitri is facing the party’s rear; since the last Total Party Kill in ATZ, I always have somebody doing that.

Turn 2

2012091802

All the PEFs decide to leave their buildings (they do that a lot) and are resolved as Arion has line of sight to all of them. The PEF at bottom right is the right class for the opposition, so it is Rattenbury’s competitor, with a ganger and netrunner in tow. The other PEFs are a brace of policemen and four Zhuh-Zhuh LWC. All of them get Contact Resolution B, which means the police ignore us and the others want to talk; the Xeogs want to shake us down. Yelling at us from 30 yards away doesn’t seem right, so the PEFs will start moving towards us when they next activate.

Turn 3

2012091803

The police PEF splits, while the Zhuh-Zhuh and the Xeogs close up to chat. I have no idea what the Zhuh-Zhuh want, but if we had encountered a smuggler he would try to sell us something, so Jack ought to try selling them something. Hoofed mammals, obviously. They are not interested and we limit ourselves to exchanging pleasantries.

“It’s her,” says Jack. Arion catches her eye and holds his coat slightly open to display a webber and an eclectic range of pistols. He gestures innocently at the policeman walking their way, and his message is clear: Bring it if you want to, but there’s no way it ends well for either of us with the cops watching. With a glare, the Xeogs turn and leave.

The Xeogs have a 2d6 edge over us in the Pep challenge, but Arion manages to score a minor success and talk them out of attacking without even using his bonus dice – just as well as I had decided failure would mean they attacked us. They leave the encounter by the most direct route. The police might well have seen he is armed, but he did not draw a weapon or point one at anyone, so the only thing they could charge him with would be Disturbing the Peace, and rolling his Rep (5d6) vs the crime’s level (1d6) is unlikely to result in a conviction – and I think the cop probably knows his chances of a conviction aren’t worth the paperwork it would take to bring it to court.

Here, I put myself in Arion’s shoes for a moment: The objective of a bodyguard job is to protect the principal. Initiating violence or getting us all arrested is not the answer, although defending ourselves and Rattenbury if attacked would be within the mission scope. Since the Arioniad is essentially a roleplaying campaign rather than a skirmish wargaming one, violence is not an essential part of encounters.

Is this protection worth Rattenbury’s ill-gotten gains? Yes. Without Arion and Dmitri, he would have been alone and the Xeogs would have outnumbered him by more than 2:1, so the contact resolution roll would have shifted 3 steps to his disadvantage – that would have meant the Xeogs had a much higher chance of getting a Crisis result and converting the encounter into a Robbery one.

Turns 4-6

2012091804

I decide to walk the guys off the board, because doubles on activation might cause another PEF to turn up – one with equally hostile intent and less concern about being seen by the law. However, nothing happens.

AFTERMATH

There’s no involuntary encounter this month (November), and I decide not to take on another voluntary one because I think Arion gets more money this way. However, he did succeed, so he gets 2 Items, Dmitri and Coriander get one each, and his Fame goes up by +5 to +10. Neither of the lads improves their Rep, though – I’m happy with the group’s skills mix for the moment, so I’m focusing on Rep.

REFLECTIONS

I borrowed a couple of house rules from All Things Zombie for this encounter. Firstly, if an NPC starts moving, he carries on in that direction unless a later result makes him do something else. Secondly, when leaving a building, NPCs move in a random direction unless there is obviously some reason for them to go a particular way. (This is what zombies do in ATZ when they bump into walls.)

Review: Faith & Demons–The Rising

This Savage Worlds plot point setting is a 294 page book (PDF, in my case) from Mystical Throne Entertainment, written by Aaron T Huss. You definitely need the Savage Worlds core rules to use it as intended, and the Fantasy Companion is useful, though not essential.

For quite a few years now, I’ve been meaning to set up a campaign in and around the Byzantine Empire during the Dark Ages, but never quite managed to do the work; since that’s exactly what Faith and Demons: The Rising is, I couldn’t resist.

CONTENT

A Skald’s Tale (6 pages)

This is the normal in-character short story to introduce the setting. ‘Nuff said.

Introduction (11 pages)

The fall of Rome casts a long shadow in Western society, and especially in RPGs. How many games can you think of that use (as WotC puts it) a "points of light setting"?  One where the PCs’ home is struggling to rebuild after the fall of a previous mighty empire? Damn’ near all of ‘em, and this one is no exception.

The setting is based on 10th-11th century eastern europe, when cultures still clashed over the remains of the Roman Empire. It’s thus set in the Dark Ages, rather than the much more popular High Middle Ages (15th century with no printing press or gunpowder, although both of those limitations have weakened over the last 20 years).

Unusually, the book is not afraid to name names and use real-world religions. More on this later, but it’s unusual for a publisher to risk this. I note that Islam and Judaism are absent, however; maybe in a later supplement.

The "common tongue" is also treated in an unusual, and more realistic, way than in most RPGs; it refers only to the party, not to the setting as a whole. The group picks an historical language – Latin, Greek, or whatever – and from then on, all PCs speak it. However, NPCs are under no obligation to do so.

The remainder of this section discusses suitable character archetypes. These include the ubiquitous fighter, the feudal lord, the monk (the scholarly one, not the kung fu master), the thief, the woodsman (ranger-type, for D&D players – usually some sort of nomad), and the spellcaster (various types, some religious and some not so much). The character’s home culture can be thought of as applying a trapping to his archetype, especially if he is a fighter or a lord.

Character Creation (34 pages)

This follows normal Savage Worlds practice for the most part, so I’ll concentrate on the differences.

The one that stands out to me is the use of Common Knowledge, which the game splits into a couple of dozen subskills, which would correspond to languages, religious knowledge or Area Knowledge in other games, and splits each of those subskills into levels – Unfamiliar (you can’t roll), Familiar (rolls are at -2), Informed (roll with no modifiers), and Expert (roll at +2). That sounds complex, but actually it just formalises the core rulebook statements on Common Knowledge. Mechanically, it allows the game to focus on the impact of language, religion and nationality without tying up most of a PC’s initial skill points to do so; but it does so at the cost of increased complexity, as in effect players now need to track half a dozen extra CK skills – the ones granted by their nationality, and half their Spirit die of free choices.

Characters are assumed to be illiterate, and only Experts in a language can read or write it. So, it’s possible – likely, even – that your PC may be literate in some languages, but not in others.

Before choosing Hindrances and Edges, each character needs to specify a nationality and religion. This grants certain edges or skills free, balanced by mandatory hindrances which don’t count against the character’s limit, and also defines which CK specialisations he or she has. Each of the eight major nations of the setting is listed, with an historical overview, specified CK options for their nation and language (and generally a choice of several religions), a racial minor hindrance, a couple of free skills at d6, a paragraph on each of the main types of warrior fielded by that nation, and a list of names – very helpful if you suddenly need a name for a Croatian barmaid, for example.

Characters effectively start with 3-4 advances from their nation of birth, largely due to the free skills. From discussions on the SW forum, I suspect this is because with only humans available as a race, the designer felt the need to help players differentiate their characters more easily. This is a solution to a problem I have never encountered, and don’t expect to encounter in future, so I might well force people to buy their "free" skills and edges with their starting points. That said, SW’s power curve is flat compared to other games, and PC advancement doesn’t change play dramatically, so it wouldn’t hurt if I didn’t.

So far, I haven’t worked out if the minor national hindrance counts against the normal complement of two such or not. I can’t see it mattering much either way, so long as I’m consistent.

Edges (26 pages)

There’s the usual slew of new edges (nearly a hundred of ‘em in fact). Interestingly, Detect Trap and Disable Trap are edges, adjusting your Notice and Lockpicking skills, rather than subsumed in a character’s skills as is the SW norm.

Quite a few of the edges exist to bend the character in directions that his nation was famous for historically; this is especially true of the combat edges which reflect historical tactics. I haven’t used the rules enough to know how well this works yet, but I do applaud the effort.

Arcane Backgrounds (41 pages)

The standard Arcane Backgrounds of Magic and Miracles are supplemented by new ones: Druidic Magic, Necromancy, Rune Magic, and Shamanism. Weird Science, Super Powers and several ABs from the Fantasy Companion are forbidden in this setting. Each gets its own section, listing the relevant skill, initial power points and powers known, the list of available powers, a discussion of how it works, backlash rules and trappings.

The chapter shows how long it takes a character to learn a new power – he must return to his temple, school or master to do so, then spend between a day (for Novice powers) and 7-12 months (for Legendary powers) in study, prayer, meditation or whatever. I like this, and if I were paying any attention to the campaign timeline in Shadows of Keron, I would adopt it forthwith.

There are 10 new powers, of which Resurrection ("Raise Dead") drew my attention the most – it’s an option that SW often overlooks, I suppose because PCs don’t actually die that often.

The main religions for the major nations are each presented with a description of their purpose, aspects (key words for their core beliefs, such as "generosity"), duties (what believers are expected to do), sins (what they are expected not to do), a timeline from their founding up to the time frame of the setting, and main gods or other figures. The religions covered are Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Germanic Paganism, Shinto, and Slavic Paganism.

Equipment (23 pages)

As I said above, this is a Dark Ages setting. That means no plate armour or greatswords, for a start.

As usual in RPGs, the equipment list has a heavy bias towards armour and weapons. I was reminded as I read through this of 1st Edition AD&D, which had what felt like dozens of different polearms, including the dreaded Bohemian Ear-Spoon. Suffice to say that each nation has its own version of the shortsword, longsword, etc with its own name and subtle differences (thankfully, most of these are descriptive chrome rather than mechanical changes).

Weapons (but not armour) can also be enchanted by Runesmiths, giving them bonuses up to +5 – the weapons tables show each possibility with its stats and cost worked out.

Torso armour, however, can be layered, as was commonly done in real life in the period – this is simple enough, there are some types of armour that can be worn underneath others, and in this case both the Toughness increases and the weight are cumulative.

There are also magical implements – these are not covered in the same detail, with whether the implement is a wand, ring, or whatever being treated as a trapping. These give the user bonuses on powers which do damage directly, such as bolt, but not on other spells such as healing. This is a fast, easy system of magic items and I like it.

Finally, we have optional rules to reflect the change in item cost caused by it being local or made a long way off.

This is the last section players can read; everything from here on is GM-only territory.

Game Master’s Eyes Only and Setting (5 pages)

This starts by explaining that the setting and campaign are an alternate history Dark Ages with added gothic fantasy, and what that means.

The premise of the setting is that undead and demons are growing in power, and intent on destroying the world, humanity, and its gods. Those feudal lords who have an inkling of what is going on are recruiting stout-hearted adventurers to stop it. However, this is happening during a time of continual border clashes between cultures and political intrigue, which complicates matters.

Nations Overview (18 pages)

Eight nations are examined in detail; Anglo-Saxon, Bulgaria, Byzantium, Croatia, Hungary, Japan, Kievan Rus and Scandinavia. I was expecting six of those, but the Anglo-Saxons are a little unexpected, and Japan completely so. GM information expands on that given in the character creation chapter with more history, climate, linguistics and other snippets of data.

Following this, although not really a separate chapter, is a list of common diseases of the period and their game effects, from Cholera to Typhoid; and then a selection of adventure seeds, with a campaign framework intended to tie them together.

Bestiary and New Bestiary (50 pages)

Two separate chapters, these, but merged for simplicity of review. The Bestiary first notes that things not suiting the setting should be avoided – Constructs, for example. It then advises what creatures from SW and the Fantasy Companion do, and do not, fit the setting.

The New Bestiary is, as you’d expect, new monsters. As usual for SW settings, these include human commoners and soldiers as well as supernatural beings, which include various angels and demons, undead, and other creatures common to the legends of the relevant time and nations.

Plot Points (15 pages)

The book’s plot point campaign is a hub-and-spoke one centred on Kiev; the PCs live there, come out to do stuff, then trot home for a slap-up feed and lashings of ginger beer. It takes them from Novice to Heroic, through ten plot points and up to 16 Savage Tales.

Travel is time-consuming and difficult, as it was historically. However, the PCs’ lord (probably an NPC, but possibly one of the characters) provides them with horses or boats; it’s in his interest that they complete their missions quickly. This is not just because he wants it done, but because the longer you are on the road, the more rolls you make on the Travelling Events table and its associated random encounter tables (which vary by PC Rank and terrain type); and sooner or later one of them will kill you, or at least delay you.

Campaign (33 pages)

The overview and random encounters dispensed with, we now move on to the actual campaign. There are three adventures each at Novice, Seasoned and Veteran Ranks, and a final one at Heroic. The characters work through these to increase their lord’s wealth and power, weaken the forces of Chaos, and eventually face them in a climactic battle for the fate of the Earth. The book talks about what the characters could do next, whether they succeeded or failed; but in my opinion, the story arc is dramatically complete at that point, and one would be better off moving on.

Savage Tales (17 pages)

Here we have additional adventures, shorter and less fleshed-out than the plot points perhaps, but longer and more detailed than the adventure seeds we saw earlier. There are 6 aimed at Novices, 5 for Seasoned PCs, and 5 for Veterans. Including the plot point adventures and the free teaser adventure in the web supplement, you have 27 scenarios in all, or about a year’s play for my group.

The book finishes with a list of recommended reading and a character sheet.

FORMAT

The PDF has been designed for use on ereaders; this is most obvious in the layout, which has a single column rather than the more fashionable two columns side by side. It’s very printer friendly, with plain black text on a plain white background, and (apart from the colour covers) only the odd black and white illustration every few pages.

Full marks for format, and especially having thought about reading it on something like an iPad or Kindle. Not that I’m biased or anything.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

The sequence of sections confused me in a couple of places; the equipment chapter, and the campaign framework in the nations overview, which I would have put after the plot point campaign. Nothing that reading things a couple of times couldn’t clear up, but I would have understood things more easily in a different sequence.

The inclusion of Japanese characters, creatures and adventures was jarring for me. I couldn’t see a logical reason for it, and suspect they are there purely because gamers love samurai. As the book is called Faith & Demons: The Rising, I assume there will be other books in the Faith & Demons line; I feel Japan should have been kept for another book, focused on the Far East.

CONCLUSIONS

The basic premises of Faith & Demons: The Rising are tried and true; saving the world from rising chaos, and successor states squabbling over the loot of a fallen empire. What is unusual is the explicit use of real-world events, organisations and religion; not only is this appropriate for the setting, but the rich tapestry of real history gives a sense of depth and continuity otherwise difficult to achieve.

My instinct is that this started out as a D&D campaign, and has been converted to SW; it doesn’t bother me, and is not necessarily a bad thing if true, but there are all sorts of little hints that suggest the author is well-versed in some edition of D&D. Probably 1st Edition, if I had to guess.

It’s well-researched, carefully thought out, and confusingly laid out in places. As a source book for Dark Ages Savage Worlds games, very good. As a source of interesting ideas to cannibalise, not bad at all. As a plot point campaign, while I can see myself running it, I don’t feel the urge to drop everything and start on it right away that would gain it the 5 out of 5 rating.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5.

Shadows of Keron, Episode 17 – Wolves in the Borderlands

After a long hiatus over the summer, the campaign is restarting; the regular Saturday session last weekend found Our Heroes in the Borderlands, en route to Gis.

Wolves in the Borderlands is the scenario that persuaded me to buy Beasts & Barbarians in the first place, so it’s special for me. It’s very reminiscent of Conan’s adventures, and in particular Beyond the Black River.

People turned up late, and it took a while for the group to shake down (mostly because the first couple to arrive started playing Trine with me while we were waiting, and we got a bit carried away with it), but we eventually got started, and they pursued a group of Caled kidnappers into the Black Forest. A certain amount of violence ensued, followed by a hasty escape through the rain, and the party are now holed up overnight under a large oak tree. Garstrewt is cautiously sipping the stagnant green water caught in the branches, and The Warforged has declared an intent to chop it to pieces, because he has convinced himself their main enemy for this session is hidden in a cave beneath it. Everyone is covered in mud, and Garstrewt is also covered in decayed human remains from  an earlier explosion.

I have given up keeping track of the state of the Holy Handkerchief, which also has those substances smeared on it from a surprisingly successful Greater Healing attempt. Suffice to say that a 40 degree delicate wash is not going to cut it.

Reflections on Campaign Pacing

The rate of progress is somewhat slower than I expected; now that I have a longer baseline, I can see that we’re actually averaging just over two sessions per month rather than the three I expected earlier; they will reach Gis in a couple of months, and I still haven’t figured out what I’m going to do with them there. Maybe I should just gloss over it and take them straight to Jalizar, which would be a good place to settle them down for a while.

Reflections on Group Makeup

If you haven’t read Lise Mendel’s piece on Designing Your Team the Scooby Way, do so now. I’ll wait.

Finished? Good.

When I look at the group, I think we have the following:

  • Fred: Peter Perfect the Paladin.
  • Daphne: Athienne, Nessime.
  • Velma: The Warforged (in combat).
  • Shaggy: Abishag, Alihulk, Borg, Gutz.
  • Scooby: Buster, Garstrewt, The Warforged (most of the time).

The overall team mix varies from session to session, depending on who turns up. The usual core team is Daphne, Shaggy and Velma-Scooby; sometimes we get another Daphne and another Scooby, and less often more Scoobies and a Fred. As you’d expect from that and Lise’s analysis, the group goes so far off-piste in the average session that it’s hard to tell where the piste was originally, which means there isn’t much point me spending a lot of time making them a nice, clean piste.

Most of the last session was taken up with Garstrewt trying to persuade one of the NPCs that he had built The Warforged, and the subsequent argument between their players. For the next campaign, I must make a more forthright statement about the tone I’m aiming for; maybe that will make a difference. I should also deprecate gnomes and warforged in any subsequent fantasy game.

But: It’s just a game. As long as everyone’s having fun, you’re doing it right.

High-Space Dolphin

So, I’m noodling around with the High-Space Beta. I don’t think it’s fair to review it while it’s in beta, but I am trying stuff out. Naturally, on seeing the ship design rules, I wanted to see what the Dolphin would look like. As you may recall, the Dolphin started out as a Classic Traveller scoutship, and has mutated over the years.

ACQUISITION POINTS

One of the interesting features of High-Space is the concept of Acquisition Points. Each PC has a number of these, depending on his Rank, which he can use to gain constructive possession of Really Expensive Toys like vehicles or starships.

My starting point is that this has to be a credible ship for a beginning Savage Worlds PC to have. A Novice has one Acquisition Point (Fleet Manual p. 5) which means his ship has 3 points to spend on Traits, and 3 free edges, plus a mandatory Design Edge.

High-Space largely treats ships as characters, and they begin with d4 in each of their five attributes: Manoeuvre, Computer, FTL, Displacement, and Quality. The only one that can’t be changed in play is Displacement – the ship can get better, but not bigger. As an exploration vessel, the Manual recommends it should have a minimum displacement of d6. If you squint (or expand the scale on p. 9 in Acrobat) you can see that this covers ships of 11-50 metres in length; the CT Type S is 24 metres long, so that’s fine.

DESIGN EDGE

This represents the ship’s original purpose. Obviously, I pick Explorer (p. 12); this gives it +1 FTL die type, +1 Pace, and means it has 2 Payload per displacement and 1 Hardpoint per displacement. It’s not clear whether that means the die type, or the die step up from d4; I decide on the latter, giving it 4 Payload and 2 Hardpoints, as a scoutship with 12 Payload and 6 Hardpoints just feels wrong. YMMV.

TRAITS

The Dolphin now has Manoeuvre d4, Computer d4, FTL d6, Displacement d6, and Quality d4; I’ve used the free boost to FTL from the Explorer design edge, and one point from the three I’m allowed. I decide to add one point to Manoeuvre, and one to Computer (you’ll see why in a minute); that’s all my free Trait points used up. Increasing Manoeuvre and FTL by one die step seems like a good match for Jump-2 and Manoeuvre-2.

FREE EDGES AND HINDRANCES

Browsing through the Hindrances, I don’t see anything appropriate, so we’ll leave that be. For my three Edges, I select:

  • Positronic Computer Core. This requires a minimum Computer Trait of d6, which is why I picked that, and allows the ship’s computer to have a simulated personality and learn from experience. Costs 1 Payload.
  • Guest Accommodation. Cross-referencing the ship’s Displacement with the number of times I take this edge (1) tells me it allows for 6 passengers. I can’t see how to work out the crew accommodations, so I’ll leave them for now. Maybe when the full rules come out. Costs 1 Payload.
  • Luggage. A small, pressurised cargo compartment. Cost 1 Payload.

I have 2 Hardpoints spare for when the ship gets an advance, which will just fit an X-Ray Laser. If the ship were a PC, it would gain experience normally; otherwise, after each adventure, one of the crew can give an experience point to the ship, allowing it to level up over time.

STATBLOCK

I think that’s everything except the derived statistics, so let’s work those out and list the full statblock.

Dolphin, Surplus Scoutship

Attributes: Manoeuvre d6, Computer d6, FTL d6, Displacement d6, Quality d4.

Hindrances: None.

Edges: Explorer, Guest Accommodation, Luggage, Positronic Computer Core. 2 Hardpoints held in reserve.

Pace: 11. Toughness: 5.

I like this system. It manages to produce ships with character while maintaining the Fast, Furious, Fun nature of SW. I await the production version of the rules with interest.

Arion: Gunfight at the OK Gentlemen’s Club

I have nothing to review this week, so you get a bonus episode of the Arioniad. The involuntary encounter for October is: We’re being robbed!

Since there is a perfectly good robbery encounter on p. 132, I use that, replacing the LWC target with Arion and company, and Jim Bob Joe with a group of three Basic criminals. There are two PEFs, both placed in section 4 by the dice. There are buildings in sections 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 9; the gentlemen’s club with an ATM outside, where we have stopped to take out some cash, is in section 2. The First Contact table doesn’t seem applicable unless Arion is the robber, so I ignore it. Reading the encounter description, it looks like nothing happens until the robber activates, when he will close to 2" from the player group and demand money with menaces. I can’t see my little band handing them over without a fight, so it’s time to try the combat rules, and we’ll proceed directly to the In Sight test.

2012090900

Start of Turn 1: “There we were, just minding our own business…”

Turn 1

Arion rolls Rep d6: 5, 2, 3, 5, 4 and passes 2d6. Coriander passes 4d6, Dmitri none (ouch). I now determine the criminals by rolling 2d6 for each on the Ganger table, getting 5, 9 and 5. The 9 translates to a Ganger with Rep 3 and a pistol, who gets 2 successes, while the two fives are both Rep 4s with pistols, and get 2 and 3 successes respectively.

The gangers brandish their weapons at our heroes, and demand money, expecting their Pep challenge to cow us into submission. Since their highest Pep is 3, that would be unlikely anyway, but using the Star’s Free Will power I overrule that, and we draw and Snap Fire. The gangers are already weapons drawn, so just fire normally. The firing sequence is Coriander first, then one Rep 4 ganger, then Arion and the other gangers simultaneously.

Coriander hauls out her assault rifle from inside her duster, stock folded, intending to donate one round to each ganger. If I read the table on p. 41 correctly, because the gangers are all outgunned, they Duck Back. It took me a while to find what that means; the definition is on p. 43. The gangers move towards the nearest cover, in this case the door of the gentlemen’s club, which takes them right past the crew, and are unable to return fire.

Meanwhile, Cori fires. She rolls 1d6 + Rep for each round, getting scores of 10, 8 and 7. As she is snap firing and they are moving, only the 10 hits. Ganger 1 (Rep 4) is gutshot and gets a result of Bleeder. Ganger 2 (Rep 3) and ganger 3 (Rep 4) were both missed, but now take a Received Fire test and a Man Down test. Even with the leader dice, they both continue to duck back, barging into the club, and can no longer see the Dolphin’s crew or be seen by them.

PEF1: Splits, spawning PEF 3.

PEF2: Moves to the closest section with a building – that could be 1 or 8, so I select at random – 8.

2012090901

End of Turn 1: “Call that a gun? Now THIS is a gun!”

Turn 2

Activation: Gangers and PEF1, PEF3, PEF2, Arion. No extra PEFs from activation.

The gangers fire from cover; the leader scores a 9, hitting Cori twice (she looks the most dangerous). He rolls a 2 and a 6 for hit location; head, Obviously Dead, and chest, Obviously Dead. However, as a Rep 5 co-star, Cori has 3 Star Power, and now looks like a good time to use it. For the first hit, she rolls 5, 3, 2: 2 successes and reduces the OD result to Bleeder. For the second hit, she rolls 3, 1, 3: 3 successes, and reduces the OD result to Stunned ("miss a turn"). Coriander is officially Not Feeling Well and belatedly decides to go prone.

Somewhat aggrieved that his buddies left him behind, the downed ganger tries first aid on himself; you’ll see how that works in detail shortly, but meanwhile he’s back in the fight.

The Rep 3 ganger has a choice of two targets with BAPs and decides to shoot each once. He scores 5 and 8, missing both.

PEF1 moves towards section 8 and its building. PEF2 enters the building in section 8. PEF3 splits, spawning PEF4.

Arion and Dmitri take a Man Down test and Received Fire test, and thanks to Arion’s leader die, both carry on. Each fires twice, Arion taking the lead ganger and Dmitri the other. Arion scores a 10 and a 6, hitting the leader’s gun arm and knocking him down. That worthy now takes a Recover From Knock Down test and passes 2d6, so is stunned. Meanwhile, Dmitri hits his opponent in the head, killing him instantly. The lead ganger now takes another Man Down test, passes 2d6, and is no worse off.

2012090902

End of Turn 2: “Do you suppose if we shot all the PEFs they’d stop breeding like that?”

Turn 3

Activation: Arion, PEF1, PEF3; PEF2, PEF4; ganger. Arion goes first. Another PEF appears in section 5 due to the activation dice.

Arion decides to retrieve wounded; he moves to Coriander, picks her up, and then moves 6" towards cover, in this case the corner of the building, while snap firing at the surviving ganger. As he is moving, snap firing, carrying his injured girlfriend, and generally distracted, he misses. Dmitri falls back with a fast move, covering them, and fires twice into the doorway, again missing both times. He reaches the building corner. (Note that I declared fast move here purely to reduce his chances of being hit, he could easily have reached the corner without doing so.)

PEF1 enters the building in section 8. It’s at this point I realise I should have resolved the PEFs a couple of turns ago. So: PEF1 is a lone Basic member of the Criminal Element (no. 7 on the generator), contact type B. PEF2 is three Zhuh-Zhuh dropouts (nos. 11, 6 and 10 on the generator), contact type B. PEF3 is five Hishen criminals (9, 8, 6, 6, 8), contact type A. PEF4 is one basic dropout (8), contact type B. So, given a choice, the Hishen would exchange pleasantries, and everyone else would go to a people challenge. Since the lead is already flying, I think the time for those is over.

The Zhuh-Zhuh come back out of the building again.

The ganger in the club fires twice at Dmitri, but also misses as his target was fast moving. The one in the road fast moves into the club, where he can be heard remonstrating with his colleague about the proper etiquette for dealing with wounded friends. Dmitri takes a Received Fire test and ducks back around the corner.

2012090903

End of Turn 3: “I don’t like the way those Hishen are looking at Cori. They’re slavers. Everyone knows They Want Our Women!”

Turn 4

Activation: Hishen; gangers; dropouts and Zhuh Zhuh; Arion and Criminal.

The Hishen move towards the player group. The gangers stick their heads around the corner intending to shoot at Dmitri, but since he has ducked back there’s nothing to see. The dropout tries to split, can’t, and so moves towards the closest building – most sensible thing he could do. The criminal stays put.

Meanwhile, Arion spends the whole turn applying first aid to Coriander. He has Savvy 5, and rolls 5d6 looking for successes; 1, 2, 3, 4, 4 = 3 successes. He can only count one success, so there is no point applying bonus dice. Coriander rolls 1d6 vs Rep (5) and gets a 1, also one success. These count as pass 2d6, so Coriander is back in the fight at full capacity, and not a little cross.

2012090904

End of Turn 4: “Marines! WE – ARE – LEAVING!”

Turn 5

Activation: Arion and criminal. All others fail to activate.

The criminal stays put. I think about the art of the possible, and conclude that there’s not much to be gained by staying to fight, and quite a bit to lose. So we break off by fast-moving directly off-board.

Arion and Dmitri look at each other, at the still-bleeding Coriander, and a bunch of Hishen moving up to them.

"Time to go," says Arion. Dmitri covers the Hishen while they back off down the alley.

Aftermath

I suppose I should’ve decided what success looked like before starting. We’re survival motivated, and we did survive. However, Cori was a bleeder, and any encounter in which your girlfriend comes that close to getting their head blown off feels like a loss. So, Dmitri has a successful encounter and rolls to improve his Rep from 4 to 5; 3, he fails. Arion and Coriander have a failed encounter, but roll 3 and 2 respectively so don’t lose any points (had either rolled a 1, they would have lost one point from a random stat). However, because Arion failed, his Fame is back down to zero again.

Lessons Learned

Looking at the PEF resolution tables, being outnumbered in the rough parts of town after dark is a bad idea. Being alone is even more so.

Even for an involuntary encounter, it would be best to work out what the encounter objective is to start with.

Things to Check

How do I determine the profession of a Criminal Element? I know I’ve done this before but can’t remember where it is in the rulebook.

Arion: The Heist, Part 2–Execution

Late October ‘12…

"I don’t like it," says Coriander, looking at the map of the police station on the wall screen in the Dolphin’s payload bay. "We’re stealing from the police to help criminals. It’s not right."

"This is the job," Dmitri shrugs. "Maybe you hadn’t realised, but the only difference between us and crooks is motivation. They do it for the money, we do it for the greater good."

"I still don’t like it," Coriander repeats. Dmitri is starting to get a little irritated now.

"What did you think the job was, Cori? This is what I was doing while you two were off snogging in the Big Dark. We need contacts to build a cell, contacts who will lie and steal and kill for us. We need them to trust us, and the way we do that is… well, things like this. You coming, or not?"

"Are you going, Arion?" she asks. He shrugs.

"It’s the job. I signed up for this, even if I didn’t know what it would mean at the time."

"Then I’m coming too. Last time I let you out on your own, you got half-eaten by a dinobastis."

"Technically, you were both with me when… OK, OK. Dmitri: How do you want to do this?"

"We take the gravsled around the back, and break in through this door. Evidence room is the first door on the right going in. We’re looking for a crate labelled THX-1138…"

Looking at the floor plan, I think the board works better with the station in sections 1-6 and the road in 7-9. I also see I’ve been playing on non-standard sized boards (not that I mind); so I decided to do this one on the official 3′ x 3′ board, and also to try out the optional rules for PEFs in buildings.

2012090501

End of Turn 1: “Left side door breach, stack up!”

As a game, this was somewhat lengthy but quite straightforward; the team moved up to the exterior door, disabled the alarm (thanks to spending three items on ECM), chatted briefly to several PEFs without triggering a fight, managed with some difficulty to break into the evidence room and find the crate, and then walked out, stressed but uninjured. The mission was a complete success.

However, by the time they left the board there were over 20 PEFs on it. And I hadn’t even rolled for those in unentered parts of the building.

201209050n

End of Turn 7: New PEF City

I won’t give you a blow-by-blow account, as I spent most of the session moving PEFs around, and you’ve seen how that works. Thanks to the mission’s success, Arion’s Fame improves to +5, and his number of Items to 8. Coriander and Dmitri now have 4 items each, and no longer have to roll for staying in the group. Each figure rolls for improvement, going for whatever has the best chance of improvement; Arion gets nothing, Coriander improves to Pep-3, Dmitri to Sav-3.

Lessons Learned

I don’t think I’ll use the optional PEFs in buildings rules again; I thought starting with only one PEF on the board was cheating, but Ed’s quite right, the little devils multiply like rabbits. They also spent quite a bit of time yo-yoing in and out of buildings; maybe they were unloading something. Fortunately, unless the player group starts something, the average PEF is quite happy to live and let live.

Using Hex Map Pro on the iPad is more practical than battlemats and figures, because there are other demands on the dining room table which clash with my availability for gaming. With a decent map as the background it doesn’t look too bad, either.

The team wasn’t properly equipped for the job, which cost them several turns of unproductive challenge rolls. In future, I should look at the relevant tables beforehand, see what equipment would give me bonuses, and buy it.

It’s good to be a Star, especially with bonus dice. While having the right skills, specialisations and tools gives you bonuses, there are usually no penalties for not having them. The Star’s high Rep and his bonus dice mean that he can pull the team out of a tricky situation at a dramatically appropriate moment – there’s not much that an extra five dice can’t fix.

Travelling Light

“He who is outside his door already has the hardest part of his journey behind him.” — Dutch proverb

In my review of 5150: NB a couple of days ago, I mentioned a little extra work would be needed for adventures outside New Hope City.

That’s true, but it isn’t much.

Arion & Co spend most of their time in starports, with the occasional trip into the wilderness. Starports are easy to do; mechanically, they are all the same as NHC, except that people you could run into again are specific to planets; so if Arion makes a hated enemy in NHC, then travels to Halfway, he won’t usually meet that person again there.

For game purposes, the wilderness can be a public park with no roads, or maybe just one road running through it. Or you could replace the roads with clear terrain and the buildings with hills.

Interstellar travel is basically just travel, with any PEFs encountered being in another ship, lifepod, or whatever. At this point I’m not using any ship combat rules, so any such encounter would either be with stowaways or a boarding action – which would be like an encounter in a single building, except using one of my collection of starship deck plans instead of a building layout. And, you’ll notice I don’t need a star map for that.

Not so hard, is it?

For an example of this sort of thing, take a look at Chroniques du Fort Bastiani, where there is a 5150-Stargate crossover game in progress… and some very nicely painted figures.