Anvil Road, 8th June 216. Boris, The Fox, Hug-Hug, Pascal, Silmaria, X7-09.

Almost all our heroes are somewhere in the mines now, and gather by the campfire between the lift shafts and the spiral staircase. While the others lick their wounds and roast – well, best not to think about it, really – over the fire, Boris, the Fox, Silmaria, Pascal and X7-09 descend by the northern lift shaft (now repaired by X7-09) to the lower level.

Some short-range exploration allows them to tie up their rough maps of the upper and lower levels, and to deduce correctly that the only thing they haven’t investigated on the upper level is the mysterious moaning noise behind one of the walls. Leaving that for another day, they follow one of only two unexplored corridors they know of, which twists and turns and at length leads them to a circular chamber with a high ceiling, which X7-09 notes is covered with holes. On the middle of the floor lies a body in chainmail, stretching its hand out towards a large gem. The Fox attempts to shield-surf down a short flight of stairs into the chamber, fails miserably, and walks the rest of the way to the gem, intending to liberate it. Two things happen immediately; large spikes slide out of the holes, and gravity in the chamber reverses, hurling the helpless Fox onto the spikes. Through swift reactions, adroit use of the shield, and (to be honest) miraculous luck, the Fox survives the spikes; then gravity returns to normal and he falls 20 feet to the floor, suffering severe contusions.

The rest of the party had cautiously retreated outside the chamber during this performance, and so survived. Pascal scampers into the chamber, again reaching for the gem; this triggers the trap again, and while Pascal’s extraordinary wall-crawling abilities protect him, the Fox is again slammed into the ceiling spikes, and then back onto the floor again. He begins to look somewhat the worse for wear and there is some doubt whether he can leave the chamber under his own power, so Boris casts entangle in his unique manner – extending his luxuriant armpit hairs to a length of some 15 feet and projecting them for the Fox to grab onto. Given where this impromptu rope has been, the Fox is reluctant to grab it – until it triggers the trap again, when clutching on to it allows him to avoid the spikes, but not the bonecrushing slam into the floor afterwards. X7-09 and Boris reel him in like a fish and he is partially healed. Pascal gathers up the loot and after a short argument, the Fox gets the chainmail for his pains – and puts it on before anything else can stab him.

Pascal determines to his disappointment that the gem is an illusion, and more productively, that if he walks round the edge of the chamber he can cross the chamber without setting off the trap. The party cross to the other side and open the opposite door, at which point they are blasted by a lightning bolt of uncommon puissance. Fortunately, X7-09 is in the van, and as he becomes more experienced and better-equipped, he is getting increasingly difficult to hurt. Smoking slightly, he leads them through, and they discover the bottom end of the staircase where the others are camped. Not wanting to risk the chamber again, they troop upstairs, across to the lift, and back down again, before taking the only route they haven’t explored yet, another passage.

At length, this passageway ends at a door, with an apparent gargoyle statue in an alcove nearby. Remembering that “the gargoyle knows the command word”, they ask for this and receive it. It’s at this point they begin to wonder what the command word does, but Silmaria is inspired by the word and begins scribbling notes about an awesome song using the word as its title.

X7-09 marches up to the door and tries to open it, receiving a very large spring-propelled spear in the guts for his pains. However, his shield slows it down enough that it does no actual harm, and he twists it sideways intending to smash its wielder into the wall beyond. He discovers that the door is false and the spear part of a trap, but while he is finding this out, Boris runs a long nail down the gargoyle’s cheek and says “My, aren’t you a handsome fellow,” while at the same time the Fox barrel rolls away from the skewered X7-09, expecting further attacks – straight into the gargoyle.

The gargoyle interprets this combination as an attack – wouldn’t you? – and leaps from its alcove to rend the party into toothsome chunks. Boris immediately invokes his magical bodyguard (a medusa).

“Stanley, my love,” says the medusa. “It’s been so long!”

“Gorgon – kill!” instructs Boris.

“Anyone in particular, or just all of them?” asks the medusa.

“Not me!” shouts the Fox.

“Just the statue today, my dear,” explains Boris.

“How dare you cheat on me!” roars the medusa. “You thought I’d forgotten after all this time!”

While Silmaria taunts the gargoyle from the rear, the others lay into it with a will. Everyone hits it and hurts it, except X7-09 who is preoccupied with the door; but perhaps predictably, it dies when Boris kicks it somewhere tender with a viciousness not normally seen in elven wizards.

After some discussion, the party declaims the command word, thus opening a secret door. Following the corridor beyond leads them to an altar room, with an unbound corpse nailed to the altar by a dagger. The errant Hug-Hug is hiding behind the altar.

“Fanatics!” hisses X7-09, deducing in a flash that a sacrifice of some sort is needed to proceed. While the rest of the party gazes on, mouths open in shock, Pascal casts stun on Hug-Hug, X7-09 grabs him and slams him on the altar, and Pascal rams the dagger into his chest, killing him instantly. A section of wall slides back, revealing a passage deeper into the mines.

“Poor Hug-Hug,” says Boris, intoning a request to his patron Icon under his breath.

“Yes, Master?” moans Hug-Hug, as he struggles to rise from the altar.

“You have done well, my friend,” says Boris. “The King has given you a second chance.”

The Fox cries out: “THE NECROMANCER!” and leaps forward, longsword swinging for the goblin’s exposed neck. Hug-Hug’s head flies from his shoulders to roll across the floor, while Boris gleefully skips off to join the rest of the party, as they venture into the newly-revealed passageway…

To be continued…

GM NOTES

The Fox is currently going by the name of Sir Balthazar Rook, but I find it easier to think of him as the Fox. He never takes off his closed helm, as we have established that while everyone forgets his face at midnight, they do remember that their party contains an Imperial knight (who for some reason never opens his faceplate).

X7-09’s player (also Pascal’s player, though in this session X7-09 was the Wild Card and Pascal the Extra sidekick) is proving remarkably good at figuring out puzzles with next to no clues, which is gratifying.

Boris continues to be a deeply unsettling individual. The player does Chaotic Neutral very well.

Pressure is mounting to explore Babe Island (drawn on the map by Boris about 15 sessions back), so I have agreed to take them there once they’ve finished in the mines, which will probably be next week. I’ve been meaning for a while to switch over to some homebrew adventures, and this is a good chance to do so. Who knows what they’ll find there? Not me, but the dice will soon tell me…

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In a Nutshell: Old School dungeon crawler for Savage Worlds. Written by Giuseppe Rotondo, maps by Dyson Logos, published by GG Studios. 114 page PDF, $9.90 at time of writing.

CONTENTS

Introduction (2 pages, one of them a black and white illo): What Gold & Glory is; not a setting, but a really fast Savage Worlds dungeon crawler with random character generation.

Character Creation (14 pages): Savage Worlds doesn’t have a random option for character creation, relying instead on the semi-pregenerated archetypes; this section provides a one (you can still use full fat SW if you want). You draw three cards; suits determine the character’s gender, race, and ‘character class’, while values determine edges and hindrances.

Race determines starting characteristics, and character class is basically a starting skills and equipment package – it has no effect on character development later in the game, but does define what gear you have and what you can do with it. If you have an Arcane Background because of your class, you draw 1-2 more cards to check what powers you have; arcane casters also roll a d6 to select trappings for their powers.

You draw another three cards for extra gear you might have; some of these items give you extra skills.

Optionally, each player draws a card for a connection between his character and that of another player; so in a group, each PC is connected to two others. These have mechanical effects as well as narrative ones – my favourite is Competing Friends: whenever one PC rolls snake eyes, his Competing Friend gets a benny.

Equipment (10 pages): This covers currency, selling loot, buying magic scrolls, and a revised encumbrance system which disposes of pounds weight in favour of abstract units. There are a few new mundane items (shout out for the poison purge, which allows you to reroll the effects of being poisoned). Light sources have an additional attribute: The usage die. When you enter a new room, you roll that die; if you score a 1, the usage die becomes a d4, or if it is already a d4, the light goes out.

Setting Rules (10 pages): These are focused on Arcane Backgrounds, lighting conditions, time and movement during exploration; they serve to make the game more like Original D&D. Wearing armour reduces your casting chances, you can prepare spells ahead of time for mechanical benefits, you only recover power points under certain conditions, experience points are based on loot recovered, that kind of thing. Design notes explain the decisions the author has taken – the objectives are to speed up play and discourage disruptive behaviour at the table.

Experience (6 pages): Your PC is in this game for the loot; you enter dungeons because that is where the loot is, you slay monsters because they are standing between you and the loot. The revised experience system is the key setting rule, and as such gets its own small chapter.

If you spend your loot on carousing, magical research, or offerings to Solis the Sun God, you can convert gold pieces to experience points – spending the money on other things doesn’t help. The xp you need to gain an advance start at 50, and increase at each rank. In effect, then, you buy advances with loot. Once per session, if you have spent gold to buy xp, you also draw a card based on which activity you spent the money on; this gives you a random benefit, which can be temporary or permanent. Anyone can carouse, but research and offerings only really help those with the right Arcane background.

Wild Draw Dungeons (6 pages): This is a random dungeon generator, intended to be used on the fly. If you do this, you’ll need a second card deck with the aces, faces and jokers removed. Draw three cards for each room as you enter it; the values determine the room’s size and number and type of exits, while suits determine what’s in the room. At first, I thought there was no advice on connecting rooms with passages; but after a little thought I realised that a corridor is just a long, narrow room.

Optionally, you can take some black cards out of the deck; this means you get to the interesting rooms more quickly.

There are examples of the dungeon layouts this generates, but specific monsters and treasures vary from dungeon to dungeon, which is where the next chapter comes in.

Dungeon Adventures (61 pages): These are intended to be used with the random generator in the previous section; that creates the map, while the seven dungeons in this chapter each provide an overall theme and tables of loot, special features and monster encounters – these are generally standard SWD monsters with a couple of modifications. Each dungeon has flavour text split into what everyone knows, what information can be found by a Streetwise or Investigation roll, and what it looks like once you’re inside. Sometimes there are special rules which apply to a particular dungeon. Several of them have a distinct fairy-tale feel.

FORMAT

Single-column black text on white, lots of black and white dungeon maps (most chapters have one as the last page), occasional line art or colour images.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

There’s no index or table of contents, which doesn’t bother me at all because I use the PDF reader search function. But you should know what you’re getting, and an index or table of contents isn’t it.

I find the vertical text centering used in tables harder to read than top-centred text. It’s only really possible for me because of the grey banding on table rows. That could just be my eyes, of course.

At different places in the book, it seems to say random PCs start with 250, 2d6, or no cash. I’ve assumed no cash because the gear is often worth more than any of those amounts.

If I draw three cards for gear, then get a joker to draw two more, how many of the four items do I keep? I used two, thinking that the extra choice was enough of a bonus.

CONCLUSIONS

In about three sessions’ time I’m going to need some fast and easy SW dungeons for the 13th Age game. This may well be how I get them.

The random character generation sequence might be an entertaining way to create NPCs. The setting rules strike me as an especially simple and elegant way of encouraging PCs to behave like D&D PCs without forcing them to do so.

The seven dungeons provided will certainly get you started and keep a group occupied for quite a few sessions, but you will eventually need to prepare more encounter and treasure tables.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5. I love this, and it will see use in the next few days. Watch for an ‘after action report’ soon!

Anvil Road, 8th June 216. The Fox, Hug-Hug, Pascal, Soreth, X7-09.

Party members shimmer in and out of existence on the far side of the dwarf-faced door, and when this has finished we find the party consists of The Fox, Hug-Hug, Pascal, Soreth and X7-09. Shrugging, they move on and find themselves on a stairway, which they ascend, noting with interest the hammer in a glass-fronted niche with a notice in dwarven: “In case of berserk golem, break glass.” Pursuing the stairs leads them to a door, beyond which lies a corridor.

Pascal sends X7-09 forward to investigate the mouldering bodies at the corridor’s midpoint, finding a dead elf with a bow and arrows, and a dead dwarf in scale mail with a battleaxe. Pascal joins his robot servant, as does the Fox, and on reading the elf’s diary they discern hints of a trap. When they try to leave, they discover the corridor magically extends, so that whatever they try they never get any closer to the doors at either end. Soreth and Hug-Hug have stayed on the stairs, with Soreth musing out loud about eating the goblin, and on learning of the trap, Soreth asks how much it’s worth to help the others escape. The Fox offers 40 gold pieces, and despite X7-09 refusing to admit to having any treasure, Soreth agrees and claws the door at her end to pieces.

Hug-Hug senses this is a good time to leave and sneaks away. At length, Soreth notices he is gone, and shouts into the darkness that she will track him down and kill him if he doesn’t come back. Given that this is what he expects to happen if he does come back, he keeps on sneaking.

Destroying the door doesn’t help, but X7-09 hits on the idea of walking backwards to the other door, and thus escapes. The secret of the trap now revealed, everyone tramps out through the second door, to find themselves in the large square chamber where they previously fought skeletons. A spirited debate ensues as to whether Soreth is owed any money, as X7-09 figured out the trap, but in the end the Fox pays her 28 gold, having noticed during negotiations that counting is not her strong suit.

They leave by the one door in this room that they haven’t tried, and after avoiding falling into two mineshafts bridged by decrepit planks, they replace the planks and march on, shortly reaching a corridor spiralling upwards with evidence that something large and heavy has rolled down it. Regardless, they press on, and in due course trigger the obligatory rolling boulder trap. A round boulder in a square passage must necessarily leave gaps at the corners, and Pascal and the Fox have the agility and the presence of mind to use these to get behind it. Soreth shows a commendable turn of speed and outruns the boulder, as it is still picking up speed – at least until it slams into X7-09 and tries to smear him along the floor. Now, X7-09 is too big to squeeze into the corners, but also too tough for the boulder to do him any real damage. Guessing from the screeching noise what has happened, Pascal invokes his patron icon, and succeeds in getting the boulder turned into strawberry jelly.

Shortly, the party reforms at the boulder’s launching point. X7-09 is entirely covered in strawberry jelly, which Pascal is licking off him slowly. Soreth has trudged through about 30 feet of knee-deep jelly and is partially covered.

Realising where they must be, X7-09 breaks through a wall (this turns out to be some sort of amoebic ooze disguised as a wall, which he kills with a single punch) and recovers Hug-Hug’s mine cart, which they load up with their gear and loot to save carrying it. The Fox climbs in to save walking, explaining that as a nobleman he clearly cannot push it, as requested.

Their route takes them past two aged mineshafts with potentially workable lifts, and thence to a spiral staircase with a statue of a jolly dwarf at the top, which they get to reveal three pieces of information: A gargoyle has the command word, watch out for the green dragon, and don’t go near the golem unless you have the hammer or the pickaxe.

The party decides to rest up for a while, and retreats to camp near the mineshafts. X7-09 begins repairing one of the lifts, intent on descending once he is convinced it is safe.

GM NOTES

Again the party membership got mixed up, and again I offered a benny for the best explanation, which was (and I quote): “This is the mines of madness, who says they are actually here, it could all be in our minds.” True dat.

It was clever of them to work out that a spherical boulder rolling down a square corridor must leave gaps at the corners, and use those to dodge it; next time I must make the boulder cylindrical.

They have pretty much cleaned out the first level now, and partially explored the second; I reckon they are about halfway through the adventure after three sessions. I think this is too big, and I should aim for something they can complete in a single session; based on their progress to date, a five-room dungeon would be about right. Party membership is also very fluid at the moment, suggesting a shift to smaller one-shot adventures is in order. I shall consider options and propose a change.

Meanwhile, a typo in between-session chat has resulted in the term Deep Tigers, which sound so cool they have to be used…

Review: WFRP2

Posted: 7 October 2017 in Reviews
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“Er… Gitter, Boss. One of Maggot’s lot. But ’e was dead when we found ’im.” The Goblin paused a moment. “Corse ’e claimed ’e was just sleepin’… but that lot is all liars ain’t they?” – WFRP2 Core Rulebook.

It occurred to me that I’ve never reviewed Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying second edition, henceforth WFRP2, despite having played it for several years a while ago. So…

In a Nutshell: Grimdark clockpunk RPG set in the world of Warhammer Fantasy Battles; imagine The Lord of the Rings, but set in 16th century Germany, and directed by Sergio Leone.

If you’ve never played WFRP2 before: It’s set in the Warhammer World, and specifically in the Empire, the in-game version of Renaissance Germany. It has a (mostly) random character generation sequence and a percentile task system – roll 1d100 and get less than or equal to your characteristic to succeed. Two things make it stand out: The career system, which makes advancing your character an intriguing offline mini-game to play between sessions, and the way wizards eventually try to cast a spell they can’t handle, and blow themselves up.

CONTENTS

Introduction (11 pages): Introductory fiction, overview of what roleplaying is and the Warhammer world (AKA the Old World), one-page overview of the Empire (the default setting) suitable for use as a play handout (in the form of a sermon by an Imperial cleric – nice touch that), example of play.

Character Creation (12 pages): This is largely random; each PC has a main profile of eight randomly-generated stats – unusually, these include melee and ranged weapon skills as well as the more usual Strength, Intelligence and so forth – and a secondary profile of calculated stats, such as Wounds (i.e. hit points). Typically main profile stats are rated as percentages, beginning somewhere between 12% and 50%, and rising with experience. Secondary profile stats range from 0 to 14 initially and can also rise in play – but you might not want Insanity to rise above 0.

The main profile is easily convertible to and from the Warhammer Fantasy Battles statlines, meaning that the WHFB army books and free-to-download quick reference sheets give you a ready source of more NPC and monster stats.

You also choose a race; dwarf, elf, halfling or human. These playable races are the ones who work readily together; although nobody really trusts elves, the other three races have a long history of co-operation. Each race gives you certain benefits, in the form of skills and talents known at the beginning of play.

Finally, your starting career is generated randomly out of a list of 60 or so, and you get one free advance, which allows you to boost one of the characteristics on your profiles. This random selection is part of the challenge of the game, but more importantly reduces the time taken to create a character, as you don’t need to understand all the careers and pick the best one.

There is a set of tables for random generation of height, weight, hair colour, name and so on, but I never knew anyone to use it. Be handy for NPCs I expect.

Careers (61 pages): This is the heart of WFRP, and the reason why I would probably run the Rules As Written rather than Savage it, simple though that would be; from a player’s perspective, half the fun of the game is navigating the maze of careers to advance your Player Character.

Each career allows you to improve particular characteristics by particular amounts, and gives you access to particular skills and talents. Each career also has a list of entries, exits and trappings (particular items of gear associated with the career). Once you have taken all the advances a career can offer, you choose your next career from the available exits, collect all the trappings for it, and pay some experience points to enter it.

(In the party I played in, everyone went through the Witch Hunter career at some point, which requires a crossbow pistol as one of its trappings; nobody ever actually used it, so it was simply handed down to the next candidate when they changed career, mint in the box… but I digress.)

Career entries are the main part of that between sessions mini-game I mentioned earlier; if you have a clear goal for your character in terms of careers, which in my experience most people do, you work backwards through the career entries to plot your course between them.

There are 60 basic careers (ones you can begin play in) and 53 advanced careers (ones you can only reach by completing earlier careers). A couple of typical progressions are:

Trollslayer > Giant Slayer > Daemon Slayer > Glorious Death (I love that one).

Apprentice Wizard > Journeyman Wizard > Master Wizard > Wizard Lord.

Generally, you can expect to earn 200-300 experience points per session, and each character improvement (‘advance’) costs 100 experience.

Skills and Talents (15 pages): Skills, including languages, are each based on a characteristic, and you roll percentile dice against that characteristic to make a skill check – circumstances apply modifiers to the roll, and you can buy skills multiple times, gaining +10% to your roll each time after the first, to a maximum of +20%. Talents are more like D&D Feats or Savage Worlds Edges, in that they either give a bonus to one of your skills, or allow you to do something that other characters can’t do, such as cast spells.

There are 20 basic skills, which you can use even if not trained in them, and about 20 advanced skills, which can’t be used untrained. As well as the usual suspects, there’s stuff like Consume Alcohol, which allows you to resist the effects of getting drunk, and Channelling (of which more anon). Some skills (like Performer) are groups of related skills which have to be bought separately. There are also about 80 talents to choose from, some only available to particular races.

Equipment (21 pages): This chapter not only lists gear, but also has notes on encumbrance (an optional rule in this game), currency, availability, craftsmanship and slang. Weapons can have various qualities, such as Fast or Unreliable, which have effects in combat. The goods and services themselves are typical for a fantasy game, with the addition of black powder firearms and replacements for appendages you might have carelessly had bitten off by the monsters.

Combat, Damage and Movement (16 pages): A combat turn is 10 seconds, and works in the usual way; roll for initiative, then act in descending order of initiative. There are full actions, such as Charge Attack; half actions, such as Aim, Move or Standard Attack; and free actions, such as battle cries, witty quips, and swearing when you get skewered. One thing I like here is that the actions are split into basic ones (the minimum you need to play the game) and advanced ones (fancy ones like Feint, for tacticians).

Attacks involve rolling to hit, determining hit location, rolling damage (1d10 plus your weapon’s bonus), and then reducing the incoming damage by your target’s Toughness and armour value. Note that the damage die can explode; on a natural 10, you keep the 10, roll again and add the new amount. I don’t approve of hit location as a rule, but if you’re going to chop bits off your opponents – which can happen – you do need it. At least there is an optional rule for ignoring it.

There are some welcome combat examples. There are penalties triggered by different levels of damage and other conditions. There are highly entertaining and gruesome critical hits, some of them permanent like losing a hand. There are Fate points, expended permanently to miraculously cheat death, and Fortune points, expended temporarily to reroll a result you’re not happy with. There are diseases such as the Galloping Trots or Neiglish Rot. The Warhammer World is indeed grim and perilous, but also darkly humourous.

Magic (30 pages): Magic divided into the arcane and the divine. Arcane magic is practiced by wizards, who are divided into eight schools, one for each of the Winds of Magic. Mechanically, each spell has a target number, and to cast it, you roll a number of d10 less than or equal to the magic characteristic on your profile; a successful Channelling action gives you a bonus. If you roll doubles, triples etc on your d10s, you get a free Chaos Manifestation, which ranges from the invconvenient (milk curdles within 30 feet of you) to the fatal (sucked into the realm of Chaos and lost forever). So, you want to roll as few d10 on this roll as you can get away with, because quadruples are worse than triples, and triples are worse than doubles; however, if every die comes up a 1, you make a Will Power check to avoid gaining an Insanity Point. Some of the effects are permanent; by the time the campaign I was in closed, our party wizard spooked all nearby animals, had purple eyes, and all nearby smoke gathered around him – and he had got off lightly.

Wizards in this system are therefore restrained not by spell slots or power points, but by fear of what might happen to them if they cast a spell, which I think is fantastic. They can cast spells as often as they like, but sooner or later, they all go mad and/or change in disturbing ways. Such are the dangers of the Chaos that powers their spells.

The spells themselves are divided into Petty Magic, Lesser Magic, and Arcane Lores, each of which requires an appropriate talent to unlock. Petty Magic typically has a target number of 4 or so and does things like keep you dry in the rain; Lesser Magic has target numbers in the range of 4-13 and includes temporary magical armour and weapon enchantments; the good stuff is in the Arcane Lores, which have target numbers up into the 30s.

Divine magic works roughly the same way, except that fluffing the casting roll invokes the attention of a deity rather than a daemon, and is generally more benign in its effects. The spells are also split by cult rather than by magical school.

Then there is ritual magic, which is too time-consuming to cast in combat, and demands expensive ingredients, special circumstances and intensive study to use. Its primary devotees are necromancers, Chaos magicians, and alchemists.

The chapter closes with a couple of example magic items. Such things are very rare in the Warhammer World, and tend to be held by large, powerful organisations such as the Imperial Armoury. They are more plot McGuffins than tools for adventurers.

Religion and Belief (20 pages): Here we find notes on temples and shrines, the ten main gods of the Empire and their favoured sacrifices, the principle rites and festivals (my favourite is the annual halfling festival of Pie Week – this is an actual British thing, mark you, celebrated in the first week of March, and transplanted to the Warhammer World), common everyday sayings, the wrath of the gods and what acts of contrition might deflect it, writeups for each cult, and a final page on the nonhuman gods and the dark forbidden ones. All fluff, this, no actual crunch. But it’s pleasing fluff.

The Game Master (23 pages): This is about how to be a GM, and how the Warhammer World is different from the typical fantasy setting – in a word, it’s grim. There’s advice on how to set up the party so they have reasons to work together in a world where they should really be suspicious of, and treacherous to, each other. There’s advice on which plots are appropriate in this milieu and what adventures and campaigns flow from them. There’s advice on how to work the game mechanics, especially Fate points, experience points, magic and Insanity, which is hilarious if you’re the GM.

The Empire (14 pages): Another chapter which is all fluff, no crunch, this describes the setting the game is intended for (and tightly woven into, to be honest; I can’t imagine running WFRP2 in any other game world). History, politics, a map and descriptions of the provinces, the main threats to the Empire, its neighbours and allies. The game is set just after the Storm of Chaos, which means it occurs a few years after 3rd edition, and about 20 years after 1st edition.

The Bestiary (9 pages): This is a relatively small bestiary, containing common animals like horses and dogs, common NPCs like bandits, and more feisty foes like beastmen, imps, goblins, daemons, orcs, mutants, skeletons and zombies. However, there are more monster types than you might think, because monsters have careers and advances too; your basic goblin or bandit can be upgraded by making him a Brute, Chief or Sneak, and there’s no reason why he might not have taken all three. Bear in mind also that this is a world where PCs often face the enemy within – corrupt noblemen, chaos cultists and whatnot.

Through the Drakwald (11 pages): The obligatory introductory adventure, in which the PCs must guide and protect civilians fleeing from approaching beastmen – but all is not as it seems, as intrigue is also present. This can be used as a prequel to the Paths of the Damned campaign, detailed in three further books in the WFRP2 line, starting with Ashes of Middenheim.

And we close with designer’s notes, index, templates for area effects, and a character sheet.

FORMAT

Full-colour throughout; two column black text on brownish background with colour page borders, full colour artwork every few pages.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

An option to suppress the PDF background and page borders when printing please. They’re pretty, but that’s a lot of coloured ink.

CONCLUSIONS

The first edition of WFRP was a mixture of good ideas and flawed ones, while the second takes the game engine apart, cleans it up, and puts it back together again, discarding unnecessary rules and improving play balance until it rumbles nicely under the hood. We will not speak of third edition here.

In my opinion, WFRP 2nd edition is superior to both 1st edition (as the industry has learned a lot in the last 30 years) and 3rd edition (which is more an exercise in making something that can’t be pirated than an actual game). It’s leavened with dollops of dark humour, but the levels of horror and vulgarity in the game mean it is not the one to use for introducing your five-year old to roleplaying, at least not without some serious editing.

On rereading this and some of the other items now mine thanks to the recent Humble Bundle, I feel I really should reconsider my irrational distaste for gunpowder weapons in fantasy games. If I’d realised how good WFRP2 was ten years ago, you’d have seen more of it here. It definitely gets added to the Bucket List.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review: Karak Azgal

Posted: 4 October 2017 in Reviews
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Yes, alright, I was weak. I bought into the Humble Bundle and now have vast amounts of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 2 material. Some of it I already had, some of it doesn’t look that interesting, but for $20 you don’t have to find much of value before it’s a good deal. WFRP2 joins the elite group of games where I’ve bought the entire product line (actually, just 2300AD and Classic Traveller, although Stars Without Number comes close) – usually I restrict myself to the core rulebook. But look at me, talking when there’s science to do…

In a Nutshell: WFRP2 megadungeon. 99 page PDF, cost less than a dollar as part of a Humble Bundle.

CONTENTS

Introduction (3 pages): Karak Azgal is WFRP2’s take on the classic trope of a city built on top of a megadungeon. This section covers the history of the place, and overviews of the various areas for heroes to explore – basically, the abandoned dwarven mine, the dwarf hold built when the dwarves moved back in, and the shantytown on its outskirts. Collectively, these are called Karak Azgal.

The City of Karak Azgal (5 pages): Although the dwarves are back, they haven’t retaken that much of the megadungeon. They allow adventurers to enter and plunder the place for a fee, but confiscate anything they deem a “cultural artefact”, i.e. all the really good stuff. In this way the monsters below are thinned out, and the really shiny items are brought to the dwarves without risk. This chapter covers the local law, religion, trade, currency and taxation, and NPCs, all of which are designed to separate the PCs from their loot in the usual darkly humourous Warhammer fashion.

Skalf’s Hold (11 pages): This describes the walled dwarven city built on the surface over the megadungeon; construction, population, the various city quarters and their notable locations and NPCs, including some with a dark secret for PCs to root out. There’s a half-page map of the city too.

Deadgate (10 pages): The dwarves of Karak Azgal have no opinion at all of the other races, and these undesirable elements have been left to fend for themselves, building a shantytown slum outside the pristine walls of the dwarf city proper. Again, we have notable NPCs and locations, and a small map. I love the NPCs here, especially the bickering Tilean couple who run the supply shop. Deadgate has one legal entrance to the dungeon, which is well-guarded by dwarves.

Ruins of Karak Azgal (16 pages): At roughly 100 pages I was not expecting fully detailed maps of the whole place, but I was expecting some sort of random dungeon generator, and there isn’t one. What you do get are some useful descriptions of the five layers of a dwarven settlement (with notes on what sort of construction is appropriate to each, so you can describe it), a side-on view of the dungeon levels showing roughly where the big set-piece encounters are, a whole four paragraphs on mapping adventure sites, rules for mining if you want to try your luck at that, encounter tables, and a few new monsters, challenges and other encounters unique to the Karak,

So there is a sort of dungeon generator, and it covers pretty much what you would expect, except for generating a map; you have to create that yourself. What you’re supposed to do is generate the occupants and environmental challenges for the area the party will explore in the coming session randomly, and then design a room complex to suit it; quite the reverse of the usual approach. Encounters are rated with the Slaughter Margin I first encountered in the Old World Bestiary, which is basically a yardstick for how tough the monster is; you use this to determine what treasure they have, which is facilitated by a series of random tables.

Rats in the Basement (14 pages), The Walking Dead (15 pages), Greenskins (14 pages), Beast of Chaos (3 pages): As previously alluded to, there are a number of set-piece encounters for you to use, each focussed on a faction within the dungeon with their own Big Bad and base of operations; these chapters respectively cover a pair of skaven clain lairs, two undead-controlled areas (one small, one large), three areas dominated by greenskins – respectively orcs, trolls and goblins – the lair of the dreaded Beast of Chaos, and finally an altar of Slaanesh. The overall map in the Ruins chapter suggests placements for these, but you don’t need to put them there, it’s not like the players are going to see that map.

We close with a single handout – a licence to explore the ruins.

FORMAT

Colour covers, two-column black text on pale grey background with illustrated borders, line and greyscale art. Clean, legible, easy on the eye and the printer, gets the job done.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I wanted to see some sort of random dungeon generator as well; the one from Advanced Heroquest would have fit right in, for example. Still, it’s not like I’m short of those, is it?

CONCLUSIONS

One lesson I have learned over the years is to keep an offline copy of all my gaming PDFs, in case a change of edition or licencee wipes out hundreds of pounds worth of, errm, let’s call them “investments”, overnight. So this goes on the external hard drive.

I like the backstory to the dungeon very much. Like many more recent dungeon supplements, this focuses on detailed complexes separated by unspecified areas of empty rooms and silent corridors; those endless empty rooms that one used to encounter in OD&D have been collapsed into a movie montage, with screen time focussed on the interesting scenes of combat, looting and puzzle-solving.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. This is a nice dungeon and I would like to run it right away, but there are two obstacles; first, it’s tightly integrated with the Warhammer World and I’m not 100% sure I want to go there; second, it would need a fair amount of preparation – there are a number of set-piece locations for Big Bad Evil Guys, and a couple of introductory areas pre-mapped, but that’s it.

I still think WFRP2 is vastly superior to WFRP3. And I have tons of it now, so expect odd reviews of proper WFRP to pop up unexpectedly. I’ll be interested to see what happens with WFRP4.

Review: Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition

Posted: 30 September 2017 in Reviews
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“This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little, and broken, but still good. Yeah – still good.” – Lilo and Stitch.

In a Nutshell: Second edition of Mongoose Traveller, 240 page hardback. Still channelling Classic Traveller. Some bits you might expect are missing, but it’s still good. £24 on Amazon, RPGNow PDF version a tiny bit cheaper.

CONTENTS

Introduction (5 pages): There’s not much about what a roleplaying game is; that section is no longer necessary, because your mom plays RPGs on her tablet now. It does touch on the default setting – the Third Imperium – and campaign types: Free traders, mercs, explorers, travellers (a little bit of all the others). It plugs other books in the line and explains game conventions. It lists tech levels. It expands on the usual Rule Zero (“what the GM says trumps what the rulebook says”) by reminding GMs that they can overrule random results (such as random encounters) if this will improve the story.

Traveller Creation (49 pages): It’s all about the player characters; you’d expect that in a roleplaying game. The basic lifepath sequences will be familiar to anyone who has played Classic Traveller, MegaTraveller or Mongoose Traveller first edition; generate six characteristics, join a career (there are 12, plus the chance to go to jail, and an event that can switch you onto the psionic track), work around a cycle of survival, commission/promotion (sorry, advancement), re-enlistment until you have what you want or get invalided out, roll for benefits and so on. Unlike early versions of the game, you also generate mishaps and events as you go; these may result in acquiring NPC friends or foes, or (if you can link them to other PCs) extra skills; the assumption is that the group generate characters together, allowing for these links and also for skills package selection – the group as a whole selects one skills package suitable for the chosen campaign type, and individual characters select skills from it in turn, ensuring that between them, the PCs have suitable skills for the campaign.

Three playable races are included: Humans (the default), aslan (samurai cat people), and vargr (piratical canines). This chapter also includes the rules for character advancement; study a skill for a set number of weeks, make a characteristic check, increase your skill level if you succeed.

Skills and Tasks (14 pages): Tasks are basically skill checks; roll 2d6, and skill level and characteristice modifier, meet or beat a target number to succeed. Boons and banes look new to me; like D&D advantage and disadvantage, these mean you roll an extra die and take either the best two (boon) or the worst two (bane) – they are applied for circumstances such as dim lighting or unusually good tools. Sometimes how much you succeed or fail by matters, sometimes it doesn’t.

There are about 40 skills, many of which have multiple specialities. If the skill has at least two possible specialities, level 0 in the main skill gives you level-0 in all specialities, and you advance them separately after that. Another way to look at this is that expertise in some skills gives you basic knowledge in a group of closely related skills. This is a viable but somewhat sneaky way of getting another 70-80 skills into character generation – but at least you avoid the untrained penalties for a lot of them.

Combat (6 pages): This can be relatively short because it’s resolved as a series of tasks. I am delighted to see that dynamic initiative has been disposed of, since that was the single biggest thing stopping me playing Mongoose Traveller or the Cepheus Engine, but you still need to track the number of dodges/parries each PC or NPC makes, as that is a direct modifier on all their rolls for that round. Tactics – which I’m used to thinking of as a roving modifier – now boosts allied initiative. The combat round is the usual initiative, move, act, roll to hit, roll for damage; if you have ever played Traveller, you’ll be right at home. Damage directly reduces physical characteristics; unlike Classic Traveller, you need two of those reduced to zero to knock someone out, but the third zeroed characteristic kills them.

Encounters and Dangers (15 pages): The usual suspects here; disease, poison, falling off things, radiation, suffocation, hostile environments. Then come the healing rules, followed by encounters, rules for creating animals (and half a dozen examples), random person and patron encounters, missions, and so forth. The animal generation rules are the simplest I’ve seen in any edition of Traveller, but they look like they would do the job. The random encounter and mission tables are, I think, my favourite part of the book – very well done.

Equipment (39 pages): Tons of equipment, much of it weapons and armour; you’d expect that in a science fiction RPG. The publishers have tried to do this as a sort of combination magazine and catalogue; I would prefer something more straightforward, but at least it gives you a picture of everything. Armour is much as it has always been, with the exception of Battle Dress, which now has lots of modular add-ons. Next come augments – cybernetic implants, mostly focused on improving characteristics. Then we get sections on communications, computers and software, medical gear and drugs, sensors, survival gear; melee and ranged weapons, grenades, explosives, heavy weapons, weapon options. Again, if you’re played Traveller before, you will recognise them all, and if you’re a grognard like me, you’ll think of the weapons in particular as Book 1 plus Book 4 personal and squad support weapons.

Vehicles (12 pages): Vehicular combat rules, optional extras, and half a dozen example vehicles. No design sequence – I expect that will come in a later book. The rules are an extension of personal combat, adding critical hit tables but otherwise broadly similar.

Spacecraft Operations (12 pages): How your ship is operated, how much that costs, what you might meet in space, typical travel times, that kind of thing.

Space Combat (10 pages): This has longer combat rounds and a different turn sequence than personal or vehicle combat, but it is still resolved using initiative, skills and tasks. This chapter limits itself to the standard turret weapons (lasers, missiles, sandcasters) and does not introduce military-grade weapons such as particle accelerators and meson guns – I assume they follow in a later book. The authors have tried hard to give all the bridge crew a useful role in combat; without playing it, my gut feeling is that they’ve expanded the fun roles from pilot and gunner to include engineer, but I’m not sure that sensor ops or marines will enjoy space combat much. Passengers, sitting patiently in their staterooms, can only wait for it to be over.

Interestingly, if spacecraft close to within 10 km of each other, they shift into a dogfight mode, effectively a modified form of personal combat. This intrigues me, and I don’t remember it from any previous version of Traveller, but I’m not sure I’ve understood it properly – an example would be useful.

Closer still, within a thousand metres, and boarding actions can occur. There’s an abstract system for this, and the option to shift into personal combat on deck plans depending on the outcome of the abstract dice rolls.

Common Spacecraft (32 pages): Here we find stats and deck plans for the sort of ships Travellers might encounter, or hope to acquire; all the usual suspects – for grognards, types A, A2, C, J, K, L, M, R, S, T, Y, and the small craft that have been standard since 1981. The deck plans are an isometric view, which I dislike because I find the more traditional top-down plans easier to read and to use; however, they are more legible than the ones in first edition, and I approve of that.

Psionics (10 pages): The expected five psionic talents; telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, awareness, teleportation. In line with the skill and task system elsewhere, each of these is a skill, and the various powers are tasks with variable difficulties – life detection is an easy task (4+ to succeed), while psionic assault is formidable (14+). There are drugs to enhance or suppress your powers, psionic shielding to protect you from psions, and a teleport suit which rapidly warms or cools you to reduce damage from the sudden changes in temperature caused by vertical teleportation. Hidden away at the back of the chapter is the 14th career, psion, which you can only access if you roll a suitable event in your normal career.

Trade (8 pages): While Starship Operations and Space Combat focus on what it costs to run a ship, this section is about how ships make money, by transporting freight or passengers, and perhaps indulging in speculative trading – buying goods on a planet where they are cheap, and selling them where they are expensive. It has a suggestion I haven’t tried in all the years I’ve run Traveller, namely to give the players the Trade chapter and a subsector map, and let them get on with it while the GM prepares for the next scene. That bears thinking about.

World and Universe Creation (16 pages): This hasn’t changed a lot since 1977, but then it does the job and does it well, so there’s no need for change. Roll to see which of the 80 hexes in a subsector have worlds present, roll for each world’s starport type, size, atmosphere, hydrographics, population, government, law level, tech level, and other features such as bases; some of these affect others. In this edition, there are rules for factions within a government, and what the penalties are for breaching the law level. As usual, there are travel codes (how safe is it) and trade codes (dependent on the world stats, and influencing the price of goods there).

The Sindal Subsector (10 pages): It’s a Traveller subsector, following the Zhodani Base’s advice to have lots of lawless backwater worlds sandwiched between two large offmap powers (the Third Imperium and the Aslan). I do like the extra page showing where it is in the sector (Trojan Reach, immediately rimward of the Spinward Marches), Known Space, and Milky Way Galaxy – nice touch, and good use of colour. Each of the 18 worlds has stats, a brief description, an a patron with a mission for the Travellers.

And that’s it. No ship or vehicle design rules, no character sheet, no blank subsector map, no index. None of those are things I use much anyway, so I’m cool with that.

FORMAT

Two column black text on patterned grey background, full colour pictures every few pages, glossy paper. From a visual perspective alone, this is a big improvement on the first edition. It remains to be seen whether Mongoose has figured out how to do PDF files yet, I am reluctant to buy the PDF rulebook to find out after the issues I had with earlier products, most notably the quickstart rules.

The book doesn’t use the so-called perfect binding method (far from perfect if you ask me), but I’m not sure how well the stitching would hold up under heavy use.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I would like a point-buy option for character creation. I didn’t notice one as I read through, but maybe I missed it.

If space encounters in bold cannot be ignored, it would be useful if some of them were in bold text (pages 145-146).

Ship deck plans in a more traditional format please, isometric ones don’t appeal to me.

CONCLUSIONS

You could pick this up, generate characters, and start playing in the Sindal subsector right away, whereas with previous editions you’d have to have either bought or generated a subsector as well.

The rules system is an improvement on the first edition, especially the removal of dynamic initiative (huzzah!). I suspect that there is some skills bloat compared to Classic Traveller, as each PC is going to have 3-4 extra skills from connections and the group’s package; but to an extent this is mandated by the 120+ skills and specialisations available.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. It’s good, but I’m a Savage now. Maybe someday I’ll come back to Traveller proper, and if so, I could do a lot worse than this. But not today.

Tuco at the Gun Shop

Posted: 27 September 2017 in Rules
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This is how I like to think of myself when mashing up games.

The next mashup is for a solitaire campaign using Savage Worlds, Solo, and the Dark Nebula. Solo assumes Cepheus Engine or some other flavour of Traveller in the background, so it’s helpful to have some conversion guidelines for Savage Worlds. This is something I’ve thought about quite a bit over the years, so it’s easy to document.

Classic Traveller’s Little Black Books split the rules into Characters and Combat, Starships, and Worlds and Adventures. Let’s take each in turn.

Characters and Combat

Essentially, I’m replacing this book entirely with Savage Worlds.

Equivalent attribute and skill names are easy to see. For attributes, call the SW die type the CT attribute level (Agility d8 = Dexterity 8, for example); for skills, CT expertise 0 (or 1/2 if you’re really old school) is d4, with the die type increasing one step per extra skill level – so expertise level 4 translates to skill d12.

CT doesn’t really have Edges or Hindrances, and I’m starting in SW so I don’t need to worry about conversion; but if it were something I needed, I would treat TAS membership as a trapping of Rich, and weapon benefits as Trademark Weapon (implying the Born a Hero setting rule is in force). Ship ownership could be treated as any one of Poverty, Rich, Noble or Filthy Rich, depending on the rest of the PC’s stats and background – but in actual play I would just give the party a ship and get on with it.

With regards to gear and money, I don’t want to spend time tracking either, because I spend far too much of my life doing that at work already; so the solitaire PCs have whatever I think is reasonable, and their standard of living depends on their financial Edges and Hindrances – for example, Subsistence level upkeep if you have the Poverty Hindrance, or High Living if you have the Rich or Noble Edges.

Go on, live dangerously. Tell the players “Pick a figure; you’ve got whatever the figure has.”

Starships

Savage Worlds has faster and simpler ship combat rules than Classic Traveller, but to use it, we do have to rate CT ships in SW terms. Top Speed is not relevant for spacecraft; but we can use the ship’s Manoeuvre drive rating as its Climb. Ship’s Toughness can use the rules on page 66 of SWDEE; 100-200 ton craft have Toughness 19-22 (let’s say 20 and 22 respectively), adding 3-5 per extra 100 tons (let’s say +4). Weapons can be covered by the Hellfire missile and the 100MW laser (pp. 64-65). Sandcasters can be treated as a kind of AMCM (p. 66) which affects lasers rather than missiles. I’m not going to bother with the differences between pulse and beam lasers – I mean, have you ever seen anyone actually use a pulse laser in play? I thought not.

CT rules for ship construction and drugs will do fine as they stand; interstellar trade could be handled as a skill check using the conversions above, although I’ll probably use Edges and Hindrances rather than tracking spending; and training is superceded by the SW experience rules. Although I rarely given Arion & Co. any experience anyway; it’s not about the levelling up, it’s about the story.

Worlds and Adventures

Savage Worlds only overlaps with this in the Bestiary, and Solo effectively replaces the Adventures components, leaving the Worlds elements in play as they stand. I don’t feel the need for conversion guidelines here; the only things that might need them are animal encounters, and I haven’t used those since the late 1970s anyway; but I might add some world tags from Stars Without Number, because they’re the best bit.

Case closed, I think; anything else I will handle on the fly as and when necessary.