“The dinner-table is often the terrain of critical conversations, for it is there one has the better of one’s interlocutor. There is no escape without scandal, there is no turning aside without self-betrayal. To invite a person to dinner is to place them under observation. Every dining-room is a temporary prison where politeness chains the guests to the laden board.” – Maurice Renard, The Hands Of Orlac

1412 Ria D768534-7 Ag Ni GG

The ship’s boat from the Dromedary deposits Arion at Ria starport and he walks out into the muggy heat with the clothes on his back (Great Archive Surveyor coveralls, indifferently laundered aboard ship) and a spacesuit. Neither the ship’s boat nor the laser turrets are standard fittings on a subsidised liner fresh out of the yards, so Arion surmises that the Dromedary is intended to trade with backwater planets in hostile space. Ria seems to tick both boxes.

Looking at Solo p.53, I need to make a world encounter roll (p. 58), which will lead me to other rolls as appropriate. I roll 3, 2 and learn that the local community is either not what it seems, or very welcoming.

The starport is about as basic as you can get and still be an actual functioning starport, a decrepit set of landing pads and a few buildings. Arion needs to find passage back to Mizah, or at least Hasara where an Archive ship will eventually turn up, and suspects he’ll need money for that – lots of it. Before making any decisions, he needs more information, and the best place to get that is at the starport office, a mouldy-looking edifice with a couple of soldiers (armed with what look like simple chemical slugthrowers) and a man in a suit loitering outside. All three have luxuriant moustaches, which Arion will shortly learn are the local fashion. The suited man waves at Arion to attract his attention, then walks briskly up to him, with the soldiers ambling along behind, as if their presence were more for show than because of any real threat.

“Senor Metaxas? I heard from traffic control that you were arriving. I am Luis González, pleased to meet you.” González is speaking accented English, the lingua franca of spacers across the sector.

“Likewise, I’m sure. Yes, I’m Metaxas. How can I help you?”

“We don’t often see anyone from outside this system, especially not a Surveyor from the Great Archive. King Adriano Talamantes invites you to dine with him tonight, and bring him news of the outside galaxy.”

Arion thinks for a moment, covering his indecision by lowering his heavy spacesuit to the ground. He’s not likely to get a better offer than this, and while he is wary of local despots, the soldiers can likely shoot him if he runs, or overpower him if he doesn’t. Might as well go without the handcuffs, then, and eat a fine dinner instead of prison slops. Since Arion knows Archive ships don’t normally go as far as Ria, and individual free traders haven’t got the range for this run, the King must be getting all his external information from the Combine, and the implication of the invitation is that he doesn’t entirely trust them; Arion may be able to turn that to his advantage.

“I would be delighted to accept your kind offer, Senor González,” he says. “When am I expected, and what is the best way to the palace?”

“Don’t worry,” smiles González, “We will take you there right away.”

-o0o-

A few hours later, Arion finds himself clean-shaven (except for the beginnings of a local-style moustache – may as well fit in), showered, dressed in borrowed finery rather than a tatty surveyor’s coverall, and at table with Luis González, King Adriano Talamantes, Queen Delfina, and Princess Isabella, the ten-year old heir to the throne. Waiters bustle in and out with various courses, and discreet guards in dress uniforms stand behind the King to either side of him.

By the time they get to what passes for coffee locally, the ice has been broken and the five of them have moved past the polite small talk, including Arion’s descriptions of life across the handful of worlds in the Fastnesses and the family’s explanations of local history, geography and crops.

“I must tell you, Senor Metaxas,” the King begins, gesturing with his coffee cup, “that Captain Anderson tells me we should fear the Archive, that it is dominated by people with a liberal socialist agenda, hostile to our way of life here.” Arion frowns, considering his next words carefully; the prison cell is still a possibility.

“There is rivalry between the Combine and the Archive,” he says, “And a wise ruler wouldn’t take anything either of us says at face value. Captain Anderson has given you the Combine view of things; allow me to present the Archive’s. You know, of course, that before the Interregnum, a great human empire controlled this region of space, with its capital on mother Earth. Before that empire fell, it established centres of learning on major worlds, to ensure colonists had access to a basic knowledge of technology, culture and history. One of these was the forerunner of the Great Archive on Mizah; after the empire fell, it worked with the planetary government to save as many people as it could, and rebuild.”

“Captain Anderson tells me that the Archive has taken over the government of Mizah from within. Like some kind of parasitic wasp, he says. Whatever a wasp is.”

“It’s true that the Archive and the government have worked closely together for centuries. What Anderson may not have told you is that the Combine was once a faction within the Archive. We are essentially a quasi-religious academic organisation, focused on humanitarian aid and research, sharing our knowledge freely with other worlds. Some time ago, a group of the Archive’s Adepts started saying that we should sell our tools and knowledge rather than giving them away, and that since what other worlds most wanted to buy was weapons, we should sell those. That led to a schism between the academic and commercial interests in the Archive, with the commercial elements leaving to form the Combine.”

“I see. Captain Anderson argues that what people are freely given, they do not value, and that the Archive imposes its will on other worlds over generations, by insinuating its ideas into the minds of the young.”

“The Archive’s eventual goal is to uplift every system in this region to the old empire’s level of technology, thus eliminating hunger, disease and oppression. We hope this will lead to harmony, to a voluntary association of free worlds.”

“With crystal spires and togas for all, no doubt. The rebels in the swamps say I oppress them. Captain Anderson says that emissaries of the Archive are spreading sedition and firearms among them.”

“Then why invite me here? Why not just arrest me?”

“Because all I know about the Archive, about the whole galaxy since the empire fell, is what Captain Anderson has told me. Asking him if it is true gains me nothing. But you…” The King waggles a finger and smiles. “You do not know what he has told me. So where both of you agree, I can take that as the truth. Where you disagree, one of you is lying. So I hope you will accept my invitation to stay for a while, and understand that the guard outside your room is there for your protection.”

Arion considers his options, and comes to the conclusion that he doesn’t really have any.

“How could I refuse such a kind offer? I can think of no better place to stay during my time here.”

GM Notes

This week I’ll talk a bit about how the worlds of the Nebula are being created.

I start with the number of jump routes it has, and use those for a first cut of the starport (one route is class E, two routes D, and so on) and population level – inhospitable secondary systems have a population level of the number of routes plus one, habitable primary systems add another two to that. I override that in two cases; tertiary systems always have a world profile of E000000-0, and the two homeworlds (Kuzu and Maadin) have starport type A and population 9. So Ria begins with starport D and population 5.

Then I use Google translate and other sources to find out what the name means, and in which language. Ria is interesting as it means a number of different things; a drowned river valley in English, “river” in a number of Romance languages, a corn-drying kiln in Swedish, a moustache in Vietnamese, or “blood” in Woi (spoken in Indonesia).

I muse on that for a while and imagine the kind of world that would be an appropriate name for. The goal here is that if the players in a group game ever figure it out, they’ll say “Ohhh… Of course, it would be called that, would’t it?” I chose this approach because I’m not very good at doing it the other way round, figuring out a relevant name for a world based on the stats, and tend to drift into analysis paralysis. It also has the benefit that it tells me which culture or cultures originally settled the place, giving me a ready source of names, traditional menus and customs, and so on.

In the case of Ria, the image that comes to mind is a rural, agricultural planet, primarily focussed on growing corn along a river valley, with one major town just upstream of a tropical river delta, split politically between a Spanish-speaking ruling class and a mixed bag of farm labourers from other cultures, and a group of flatboat-mounted guerillas hiding in the delta’s marshes and seeking to overthrow the rulers. Possibly the first thing a visitor notices are the impressive mustachios sported by all adult males. Then I assigned the rest of the profile to fit that picture. Note that the boardgame implies all primary and secondary worlds have antiship defences (laser and missile turrets), and by extension either a Tech Level of 7+ or some sort of arrangement with another planet which armed them. Bases I assign by looking at the map and placing them where I think it makes sense and fits with the profile; there’s no reason for Ria to have any bases, so it doesn’t.

As we explore the subsectors further, you’ll see the region was largely colonised by Turkey, Indonesia and the proposed East African Union.

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Arion, 014-3401: Dromedary

Posted: 11 November 2017 in Dark Nebula
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“How canst thou say, I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim? see thy way in the valley, know what thou hast done; thou art a swift dromedary traversing her ways.” – King James Bible, Jeremiah 2:23

Aboard the Dromedary.

I roll for in-game reactions (Solo pp. 19-20) and an onboard event (Solo, p. 56): There’s only one active PC yet – Arion – who rolls a 6 and therefore fails to avoid a bad reaction; a further roll of 4 shows that a choice is made and he doesn’t like it. The onboard event is 43 – a power failure.

The Captain’s day cabin is spacious, by shipboard standards, and Captain Anderson sits at a small desk, interviewing Arion, who is dressed in an ill-fitting pair of Combine overalls and perched awkwardly on a folding chair. The scene is dimly lit by emergency lights, and the air conditioning is off.

“Our sensors confirm there’s wreckage from an Archive Surveyor, and the origin of your trajectory matches where it would have been when you left. So your story checks out. But tell me, why would pirates blow your ship up? First, they’re breaking no laws by being here; second, there’s no-one to enforce them if they were; third, a ship with an Archive transponder has nothing worth stealing – no offence – and fourth, the Archive is too powerful to upset for no reason.”

“None taken. I saw too much. I saw who they were meeting out here. Hierate scouts.”

“You sure?”

“Hraye III class with a fuel slab, squawking a clan recognition code. Unmistakable.”

“Pfft. Half the pirates out here are from the Hierate.”

“True, but they don’t squawk clan codes. And honour dictates that anyone using those codes be a member of the right clan, and vice versa. The code tells you who it was. No room for error.”

“Hmm.”

“Hmm indeed. So Captain, thank you for picking me up, but I need to impose on you further – I need to report back to Mizah right away.”

“Surveyor, the law is clear. I grant you’re a distressed spacefarer, and the Archive is good for your transport costs. But I can’t turn 600 tons of ship around and break my Bond to get you home three weeks sooner. Do you have any idea how much that would cost?”

“Don’t you see how important this is? The Hierate and Confed have been rattling sabres at each other for years, this could be the start of outright war – and if the Hierate barrels through here fangs out and hair on fire, they’re going to hit Mizah first.”

“But they might not.”

“But…” Before Arion can argue any more, Anderson interrupts, the steel any trader captain must have at his core being displayed for the first time.

“But me no buts, Surveyor. The law says I drop you at the next port of call and submit an invoice the next time I’m at an Archive facility. I have no obligation to deadhead you halfway across the sector first, and no obligation to reroute my ship for your convenience. Unless you have written authority from the Great Archive to pay the penalty clauses for breaking my Bond, which I know you do not because we searched you for contraband and weapons when we brought you aboard.”

The lights flicker back on and the air conditioning starts up again. “Finally!” Anderson mutters, then continues in a louder voice.

“Now that power has been restored, we can jump. And we will. You can either keep out of the way, or help with running the ship, but any more complaints about the route and you’ll find yourself in cryosleep in a low berth. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal, Captain.” Arion leaves the office. He is seething inside, but if he’s put into cryosleep, who knows where – or when – he’ll wake up?

GM NOTES

This story thread came about as I thought it was time we found out how Arion met Anderson, how the pirates were involved, and why Arion started working for him. I have no idea what happened, but the dice will tell us soon enough.

For this campaign, I’m determined that each post should have part of the story in it, so I’ll keep the commentary on rules and setting design in the GM Notes section, rather than in separate posts as I’ve done in the past. This time, as Arion is in jumpspace, let’s look at FTL travel, and the implications for the rules and the campaign. I expect that will make more sense if we have the map in front of us, so here it is.

The Dark Nebula boardgame makes several assumptions about hyperspace jumps. First, you can only move along the routes on the map (at least until you uncover the secrets of the Nebula itself). Second, you can’t leave a tertiary system unless there is a tanker present to refuel you with hydrogen harvested from the star. Third, in a two-year turn you can go anywhere on the map, stopping only for enemy units, tertiary systems without a tanker, or uncharted jump routes; since there are about 80 routes on the map and each side has three movement phases per turn, the theoretical minimum jump time is roughly three days, and is probably more than that. Finally, you can’t bypass any star system on your route (otherwise the tactic of blocking fleets with a sacrificial scoutship wouldn’t work).

Savage Worlds itself is silent on the topic, but the Sci Fi Companion says that a ship can jump to any system regardless of distance, potentially in zero time if it’s prepared to expend enough fuel, and The Last Parsec adds the idea that the jump is faster and less risky if the system has a hyperspace beacon. To match Dark Nebula I could say that astrogation beacons communicate with each other faster-than-light (explaining how each player in the boardgame has perfect knowledge of the enemy’s movements), that beacons only allow travel along specific routes; and that tertiary systems have no beacons. In that case, tanker units would be a kind of self-propelled beacon.

Traveller limits ship movement by the amount of fuel carried and the rating of the jump drive installed, rather than by specific jump routes; refuelling at a planet is still needed, but you can bypass systems as long as you have the fuel and drive rating to do it. Aligning Traveller with the Dark Nebula is straightforward; I usually rationalise the jump routes by saying that the map is a 2-D representation of 3-D space, and systems that appear to be next to each other may be too far apart vertically to allow a jump. Saying that the boardgame’s ships have jump-3 gives a close enough match for strategic mobility – Bors, Daanarni and Taida Na remain impassable without some means of refuelling, and while you shouldn’t be able to access Ria, Osa or Karpos I can live with that – I want Arion to visit Ria and Karpos. As the map is drawn, J-1 pretty much limits you to Mizah and its neighbours, J-2 is good for exploring either subsector but won’t get you from one to the other, J-3 lets you travel between subsectors, and J-4 lets you leave the map. That progression has a certain elegance to it, don’t you think?

(If running multiple campaigns a generation or more apart on the timeline, I could argue that the drives in the various games are the same kind of hyperspace motor at different technology levels; first the DN drive, then the Traveller one, and finally the SW version. But ain’t nobody got time for dat.)

TL, DR: Traveller jump drive wins. There’s a good campaign to be played using the official Savage Worlds hyperdrive, but it’s not this one. Maybe next time.

Review: Sector Asgard Kappa

Posted: 8 November 2017 in Reviews
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Missed another session last Saturday, but as I was wondering what to regale you with today, what should drop into my inbox but an announcement that this Kickstarter is done and I can download the final product. Woot! Let’s have a look, shall we?

In a Nutshell: SF setting and plot point campaign for Savage Worlds and its Sci Fi Companion. 170 page PDF by Applied Vectors Ltd. About $20 at time of writing, with another $10 getting you a larger plan of the default party ship.

CONTENTS

The Introduction, New Edges, New Hindrances, and Native Races (6 pages) aren’t listed as a separate chapter, but it is convenient for me to treat them as such. The premise: This sector of space was cut off from the rest of the galaxy for centuries due to a dark matter storm, developed independently, and is now being reopened for travel and trade as the storm has passed. This section introduces the concept of “Ventures”, small groups of explorers, adventurers, and deniable troubleshooters, originally a rakashan thing but now open to all. We also learn of the Tenarii, a long-vanished alien race which created technological wonders (including the Wormway, a network of jumpgates, and a variety of ringworlds) and then disappeared. There are two new hindrances and two new edges, and a comment that each world has at least one playable native race.

Worlds of Sector Asgard Kappa (105 pages): Here’s the meat of the book; 30-odd star systems, all with at least one inhabited world, some with two or three. Oddly, given the nature of SW hyperdrive (all worlds are one jump away from all other worlds) this section begins with a sector map on an 8 x 10 hexgrid; even more oddly, the names on the sector map are those of the stars rather than the worlds themselves.

Each world has a Sci Fi Companion statblock, a page or so of background info, a few local NPCs, a full-page combined system and world surface map in colour, a playable native race or two (usually variants on one of the races in the SFC, presumably diverging from the main species during the period of isolation), a sidebar detailing some local oddity, and a short adventure, about the size of a SW One Sheet, often with statblocks for new creatures or enemies. Systems with multiple worlds get more pagecount and more maps. The structure of the world descriptions, and the maps, are both good.

Crowfoot’s Venture (10 pages): This section includes full stats and deck plans for the party’s ship, a refurbished warship which is a bit bigger and more heavily armed than the usual group of ne’er-do-wells would be tooling around in; as well as stats and descriptions for the crew of nine, any or all of which could be seasoned player characters. I approve of the authors listing the advances by which each one reached Seasoned.

The deckplans themselves are available for another $10 as 18″ x 12″ sheets, which look like they would still be usable on the tabletop if magnified. They’re the same images, just bigger and higher resolution.

A Million Starflies (28 pages): No spoilers! This is a plot point campaign in 15 episodes, each of which will take 1-2 sessions to play. This pits the PCs against a dastardly foe bent on large-scale domination and his minions – picture a Bond villain and you have the general idea. Given that you have effectively several dozen Savage Tales sprinkled through the book, you have about 50 sessions’ worth of play here, which depending how often your group meets would be a year or more of play.

FORMAT

Judging by the properties in the PDF, this is a 7″ x 10″ book. Two column black text on white, colour border for each page, colour illustrations. Does the job.

Production values don’t seem quite as polished as my usual fare, but I am a content guy more than a format guy, and it’s perfectly usable, so no complaints.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

The hexgrid sector map is neither necessary nor useful for SW play if you’re using the standard hyperdrive rules. It could be useful if you want to convert the setting to Traveller or Stars Without Number.

For the same reason, I would have presented the worlds in alphabetical order of name myself, rather than in their sequence on the hexgrid.

The floorplans and deckplans have a square grid, but the grid would be more useful at one square to two yards (one tabletop inch); it appears to at roughly 12 squares to the tabletop inch.

CONCLUSIONS

I haven’t really got the hang of the world generator in the SW Scif Fi Companion, and I was hoping that this would be an example of how to use it in anger. However, the more I read this book, the more convinced I am that the authors created a Stars Without Number sector using this tool and converted it to Savage Worlds, sprinkling the result with some Traveller concepts such as the Ancients (Tenarii) and red zones (red trade codes). I do that sort of thing all the time myself so no complaints about that.

However, it does reinforce my opinion that the SW Sci Fi Companion world generator isn’t very useful. and doesn’t show me how to use it to good effect – that’s not the authors’ fault, mind, they wrote what they said they’d write.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5. I don’t regret backing this, and I can surely cannibalise it for parts; but the quest for the definitive SW space opera setting goes on.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

1514 Daanarni E000000-0 Ni.

Daanarni is blindingly bright; a blue-white supergiant. You can read by it in the next star system but one, that’s how bright it is. So look away into the blackness, and after your eyes or your screen filters have adjusted, you may be able to make out a small, bright dot. Zoom in on that, and keep zooming, and eventually you’ll see a human figure in a deep space pressure suit, solar panels cranked out of the backpack like wings. It was the light glancing off those that caught your eye. It doesn’t look like he’s going to run out of power any time soon, whatever else he’s short of.

One of the panels reels in, just a little, and after a while extends back out again. You realise he’s using the radiation pressure and the solar wind to tack across the system, quite possibly just to keep his mind off wondering how long he’s got left before the air and water recyclers break down or he starves to death. Or whether he could open the faceplate just a crack, just long enough to scratch that God-damned ITCH on his nose.

You’re just starting to get bored with watching his glacial progress when the familiar disk-and-slab shape of a subsidised liner winks into existence, not too far away from him and on an intercept course, or nearly so. Its turrets swivel to align lasers on him, the ship’s computer having registered him as a potential threat; after a few seconds it picks up the suit’s transponder and moves the ship itself elegantly aside instead. You scan through the appropriate radio frequencies, and shortly pick up traffic between suit and ship.

“…I say again, this is Surveyor Arion Metaxas of the GAS Bozcaada out of Mizah. Well, technically I suppose it’s not so much a ship, more an expanding ball of gas fluorescing in the far ultraviolet, but… Sorry, I’ve been out here quite a while. Permission to come aboard? I’ll be good, I promise, and the Archive would be ever so grateful, I’m sure. I certainly will. Oh, and there were some pirates in the system a while ago, you might want to keep an eye out for those.”

“Hang tight, Surveyor, this is the Combine liner Dromedary, Captain Anderson commanding. Give us a few minutes and we’ll reel you in.”

At length, a hatch opens in the Dromedary and a pair of suited figures appears. They tether themselves to the ship, then jet across to intercept Arion on manoeuvring thrusters while he reels in the solar panels. Catching him easily, they escort him back to the ship, and all three disappear inside.

To be continued…

-o0o-

Fade up theme music (Joe Satriani: The Traveler). Roll credits…

DARK NEBULA SEASON 1: THE TRAVELLER

Starring Andy Slack as Arion Metaxas

Also starring…

  • Karen Gillan as Coriander
  • Vin Diesel as Dmitri
  • John Lithgow as Perry Anderson

Produced and directed by Andy Slack

Written by a bunch of dice and large quantities of single malt.

Music by Joe Satriani.

Based on the boardgame by GDW, Solo by Zozer Games, and Savage Worlds by Pinnacle Entertainment.

With additional material from Classic Traveller by GDW and Stars Without Number by Sine Nomine Publications.

Review: Fantastic Frontier Quickstart

Posted: 1 November 2017 in Reviews
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No game last Saturday night, so no writeup today; so instead, I had a quick rummage through the review pile and drew this forth.

In a Nutshell: OSR sandbox. 40 page PDF by Beaten Path Publishing, Pay What You Want on RPGNow.

CONTENTS

This is a short product so breaking it into chapters seems inappropriate.

The premise of the game is drawn from the famous West Marches campaign; your PCs live in a town or village on the edge of civilisation; behind them is a peaceful, adventure-free retirement, and before them lies a wilderness studded with dungeons and other places of mystery. It’s assumed that there is a largish group of players, but only a few can play in each session, so the PCs are drawn from a pool. They hexcrawl out of town, stopping if and when they see something to investigate, kill or loot. There is no setting but what the group makes. So far, so West Marches.

The rules of the game are essentially a stripped-down version of D&D; 9 classes, 10 races, 4 attributes, and so on. Your PC also has a Culture (basically a background, what he or she did before adventuring), traits such as Loner or Kind, and a Profession, such as Priest or Farmer. The Class and Profession determine what skills you begin with, the other elements boost your levels in attributes or skills; to succeed at a task, roll 1d20 and add your skill level. You collect experience points from training, exploration or combat, get enough together and go up a level, go up a level and get hit points, go up enough levels and unlock other advances. Equipment items are the usual mediaeval suspects.

Unusually for such a basic game, as well as hit points you have stamina points and stress. The stress mechanic is interesting; you gain stress for – well, stressful things happening to you – and once this reaches a certain level, you can’t do anything else until you have rested. If you let your stress max out like that too often, you stop adventuring and retire.

So far, nothing too unusual. Where this starts to get interesting is in the base town. This begins with three buildings; the tavern, which restores stress; the guildhall, which issues quests; and the butcher, who sells rations and torches. There are another six buildings you can pay to set up, things like a marketplace which sells equipment, a library that tells you where to find stuff, an alchemist who provides potions. But wait, there’s more… you can use your loot to buy upgrades for these features, for example if you upgrade the temple enough it can resurrect dead PCs. The only thing they tie back to is the rules on stress, so if you use the town rules you need to use stress, and vice versa. In effect, this makes the town another character in its own right, which buffs the PCs between raids, and which levels up when they share their loot with it.

The GM section is fairly basic; start by marking the base town on a hexmap, then put something interesting in each hex around it, and build out the frontier a little at a time as the players explore. The players build the wider world for you by how they describe their characters’ backgrounds. You don’t describe anything you don’t have to, which reduces work for the GM and gives the players room to be flexible.

Almost half the book is made up of various forms; a dungeon form, specialised character sheets for each class, a GM party sheet.

FORMAT

Four-column black text on white with black and white art. Four column is a bit unusual, but this file is in landscape rather than portrait, the better to display on a screen I expect.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

More buildings for the town please!

A hex mapping sheet along the lines of the dungeon sheet.

CONCLUSIONS

So this is an intriguing little melange. It has a D&D base, with influences from The One Ring, the West Marches, MMORPGs, 13th Age, Darkest Dungeon, RTS videogames and probably more I don’t have the background to notice.

I can’t see myself running a D&D campaign any time soon, but I am tempted to break this down for parts. The premise, stress and town-building rules are intriguing, and I’m tempted to wrap them around Gold & Glory. I could do that easily by moving the Hearts of Stone off-map into a new frontier. Maybe have a building for each icon, which ones the players build influences how the icons interact with them. Actually, that’s not a bad idea, deserves more thought.

Overall Rating: This is effectively an open beta, so it doesn’t seem fair to rate it yet. Good effort so far, though.

Tryouts: Gold & Glory Dungeon

Posted: 28 October 2017 in Tryouts
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“Why are we in a swamp?” asks Abelard. “It’s alright for you, Carlesha, you humans are tall enough to stick out of the water. The half-folk an’ me, we’re like to drown.”

“Stop whining, Abelard. See yonder gazebo? That will be dry, and inside are the stairs leading down into the Serpent Shrine.”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the stairs go down below the water level. Stands to reason that shrine’ll be flooded.”

“Have faith, Abelard. Have faith.”

“Didn’t do the priests much good, did it?” Abelard mutters under his breath.

I’ve selected the Snake Shrines dungeon for this trial, because I love the idea of getting into it through a stone gazebo in the middle of a swamp. That suggests the first room below ground should be in the center of my graph paper, or in this case Dungeonographer grid, which I have arbitrarily made 30 x 30 squares. I decide that since my main focus this time is the dungeon generator, I shall use the Savage Worlds Quick Combat option. I note that in the Snake Shrines, there are no doors.

First room; I draw three cards. 9 of diamonds, 7 of spades, 3 of clubs. That tells me the first room is 9″ x 7″, has one exit, and has treasure in it, specifically a one-foot snake idol worth 200 gp. That’s a pretty big room, so I roll a d12 and a d20 for features; 6 and 10, respectively. After a couple more dice rolls, that resolves as a chasm, 6″ x 4″ and 30 yards deep, and a flooded floor. That’s how it works, so now you’ve seen it once I’ll speed up. Here’s the final map, with the room details below.

Room 1: The stairs end in a chamber 18 yards by 14, the floor covered in water leaking into the Shrine from elsewhere which pours into a chasm 12 yards by 8, and draining away who knows where… “Aha!” cries Abelard, plunging his arm into the scummy water and pulling out a golden snake statue a good foot long. “Floods aye, but gold too!”

Room 2: North of the party is another chamber, 16 yards square with two exits; but at Abelard’s cry of triumph, three hideous snake-human hybrids turn and glare at him from the shadows. As they charge the party, Abelard’s dwarven eye is drawn to the golden snake torc around the leader’s neck, worth a good 100 gp in his estimation. Then the burly mutants are upon them, and a fierce melee ensues.

Time for some quick combat. A witch and two rogues against what are effectively three Uruk-hai? I think they’re outclassed, so roll at -2. Neither side appears to have a tactical advantage, so that’s the only modifer. Carlesha rolls on her Spellcasting d8 and gets a 3; she fails and collects a Wound, and it takes two bennies to soak it, so she only has one left. The dwarf and the half-folk each roll on Fighting d6; both succeed on a 4, and get through the fight unscathed.

Abelard, elected mule by virtue of being a dwarf, adds the torc to his bulging backpack. Now the party’s loot is worth 300 gp. Looking up, he sees a big chunk of the ceiling has fallen in; this explains where the water is coming from. On one wall is a delapidated wooden shelf with a couple of mouldy candles on it, but this is of no interest to treasure hunters.

Room 3: East of the snake mutants’ lair is another huge chamber, 20 yards square, with two exits. Spiralling columns provide some cover, but within stands a regal snake-woman, towering over a pile of bones, who points at them and commands: “Leave! Or die!”

“Just going,” says Carlesha, and the party backs away. “But… but…” stammers Abelard. “Look in the next room! Beyond the corridor!”

Room 4: Actually a corridor running south, the raiders can see this has two other exits and a very large snake coiled up on the floor. It watches them lazily as they withdraw.

The connection between rooms 4 and 5 isn’t created by the rules, it just made sense to me given that both rooms have an exit which can only really be in that place.

Room 5: Whether a wide corridor or a narrow room is unclear, but as the adventurers retreat they can see a long room, lined with a double row of statues of standing snakes, many of which have gemstones as eyes. The floor appears to be covered in deep mud.

Room 6: The party moves through the snake-mutants’ lair into a corridor with two further exits, and Carlesha pauses to run her fingers lightly over an inscription on the north wall: “Scales of the Three Moons, Bless Us! Blood Snake, Give Us Strength! Soul Snake, Give Us Wisdom!” she reads aloud. “Hmm. I wonder what that means?” But before she can work this out, a small, venomous snake darts out of a hole in the carvings and tries to bite her. Panicking, she blasts both it and the carvings to smithereens with a bolt of energy.

I can’t help but embellish the raw table entries, hence the hole in the carvings, but more Quick Combat here… Carlesha rolls on Spellcasting, no modifiers, and gets a success with a raise, recovering one benny and comprehensively frying the snake.

Room 7: At the end of the corridor on the north side is a further chamber, centred on a 10 foot tall stone snake idol, with massive ruby eyes. The floor is again flooded, and there are empty torch sconces on the walls. The dwarf boosts the half-folk up, and between them they quickly remove the statue’s eyes. Total loot so far: 700 gp. Assuming they can get out alive, that is.

Room 8: Opposite is more of an alcove, a priests’ robing room perhaps? Whatever it was, the walls and ceiling are visibly unstable, and the entire floor has collapsed into a pit 20 feet deep. Abelard can see coins at the bottom, but also a number of snakes, and the bones of the last person to try recovering the coins. “Let’s give that one a miss,” he suggests.

Given that they don’t fancy mixing it up with the Snake Queen, that’s it for the day, and they emerge and make their way back to town. Here, they fence their 700 gp of loot; they agree to buy two units of bandages and balms against future need, and take 200 gp each as their personal share. While the two rogues go Carousing, Carlesha embarks on some research; they each make a roll on the appropriate activity table and I decide they each take one advance, which at this stage of their career costs them 50 gp each, leaving them with 150 gp in savings. Our dwarven friend draws a joker, which lets him draw two more cards; he hears a rumour about another dungeon, and gets a Tarot reading which temporarily grants him the Luck Edge. His half-folk rival parties hard, and gains Charisma until the next time she is out on the town. Carlesha’s research means she learns a new power permanently; however this is actually one she already knows, with a new trapping.

As I don’t currently intend to play these guys permanently, I won’t bother with the advances and new power. I could have bought them another couple of advances each, but you can only draw an activity card once between sessions, and besides it doesn’t feel right, although it is only likely to happen in the early stages of a hero’s career, since there is a steady rise in the cost of advances.

GM NOTES

This is a very enjoyable little game; it does the best job I’ve seen yet of making Savage Worlds feel like an Old School dungeon crawler, and I’ve tried that several ways now. I intend to use it to create dungeons for the Hearts of Stone group, although I will probably create my own monster, treasure and feature tables – or more likely, borrow them from some OSR game – to avoid giving you too many spoilers from Gold & Glory.

Incidentally, I’ve played a few sessions off-camera, and this particular dungeon had some unusually large rooms. Notice though that you do get some long narrow ones which act as corridors.

Quick Combat worked pretty well too, so I’ll add that into the toolbag for future solitaire games. While I’m playing a combat-heavy group session most weeks, I can afford to cut some corners in solitaire gaming without suffering skill fade.

8th June 216, near Anvil Road; Boris, Dave, the Fox, Kowalski, Pascal, Silmaria, Soreth, X7-09.

Most of the party are now in the Mines of Madness, one way or another, and have set up an impromptu camp on the first level near the lift shafts. Boris, Dave, the Fox, Pascal, Silmaria, and X7-09 are exploring the second level after Hug-Hug sacrificed himself (twice) in a not-entirely-voluntary manner to let them pass beyond the altar room, and after finishing their repast, Soreth and Kowalski troop down the stairs to join them. Hayes and Ssh’ta are nowhere to be seen (they are still in Marblehall directing the relief effort).

Moving on from the altar room leads them into a cavern, where they find a metal golem in the shape of a dwarf, nine feet tall and almost as wide, pulverising red crystals and filling barrels with the resulting dust. Eventually they attract its attention, and at length Silmaria remembers they took the deed to the mine from the leader of the skeletal miners. She shows this to the golem and it accepts her as the new owner of the mine and itself. Silmaria directs Dave to decorate it and teach it how to dance, with the aim of using it as a backing dancer for her band.

Boris assumes the form of a cockroach, and slips past the boulder blocking the other exit from the cavern. Silmaria orders her new follower to push the boulder aside, which it does, and everyone troops into the cavern beyond, which proves to be knee-deep in guano and full of bat swarms and giant cave crickets. Pascal is an insectivore, but crickets the size of sheep are too much for him, so he directs X7-09 to cut one down with an axe so that he can feed. The others cluster beneath a leathery pod on the ceiling, which turns out to be a giant bat, so Soreth tries to incinerate it with her fiery breath. It dodges, and flaps around the ceiling in terror for the rest of the scene.

Growing bored with this, the party passes through an exit ringed by stalactites and stalagmites, looking disturbingly like a giant stony mouth, and descends a series of ledges into a further cavern. The Fox makes his usual dramatic exit, and is immediately assaulted by a giant worm fifty feet long for his pains. It miraculously fails to crush him, instead flipping him fifteen feet into the air and back onto one of the ledges.

The Fox is really not having a good day.

Boris (who has resumed his human form) casts fear, and zombie ghost snakes fill the cavern. The giant worm is no match for this, and submerges to flee in fear.

Exploring further, the party comes upon a door and opens it. Beyond is a square chamber, occupied by a liche on a throne. Before it can speak, X7-09 holds up the deed to the mine and says: “We are the new owners, and we’ve come to talk to you about the rent.”

The skeletal figure gestures, and a door opens opposite him, revealing a pile of treasure. Soreth immediately starts sneaking towards it, closely followed by Silmaria, who says to her new friend sotto voce: “Golem, please assist Soreth in the treasure recovery, follow her lead.” The golem starts creeping towards the treasure. Soreth grabs an armful of loot and holds it close. Valore glides over and picks up a silver cat statue.

“Wait!” calls the Fox. “What about the Forever Stone?”

“That is no longer an option,” the lich intones. “You have chosen the treasure.”

Icons are invoked. Soreth and her armful of “shinies” disappear, as does almost everyone else. Silmaria lunges forwards and manages to grab an armful of loot before she shimmers out of existence; the rest of it fades away. X7-09, Boris and the golem are left staring at each other and the lich. None of the treasure remains.

“I refused the treasure,” says Boris. But before anything else can be discussed, Boris blinks out of existence.

Discontinuity…

Soreth shimmers into existence in a familiar location; her home cave, just outside Drakkenhall. Humming cheerfully to herself, she dumps her armful of shiny coins onto a larger pile, then snuggles into it for a nap with a satisfied “Aaaah!” She seems to have developed small, but functional-looking, wings.

Silmaria appears in a cosy pub with several chests of loot, including a ruby-studded horn, a number of potions, lots of coins and eight silver cat statues. “Better start counting,” she mutters to herself. “Soreth really should be here,” she muses, and starts counting out a share for Soreth.

Valore and Dave blink into existence in the Cathedral in Santa Cora, near the Priestess herself. “Ah, the very person!” declaims Valore, waving a silver cat statue for emphasis. “Look here, Priestess, having seen the state of the world and the numerous followers of the Lich King, I implore you to start a great crusade against the unholy! Now is the time, before they consume us all!”

The Fox is now in his old room in Stormwatcher Mansion, just outside Glitterhaegen.

Kowalski Klas’tak is in the Dwarf King’s bedchamber in Forge. “This is going to take some explaining,” he says, under his breath.

Boris has appeared in the Elf Queen’s boudoir. “Aaawkwaard,” he says to himself.

Meanwhile, back in the mine, X7-09 becomes aware that Pascal is in his chest cavity. “Come, golem-type construct,” he says. “Follow me, I will lead you to your mistress.” The three of them tramp off in search of the exit. Inside the construct’s chest cavity, Pascal the sentient chamaeleon admires his new armour.

Behind them, the door swings closed with a muffled thump…

GM NOTES

Well, that didn’t go as expected. Specifically, the stalwart adventurers fell for the decoy treasure, then several of them secretly used icon rolls to advantage themselves in obtaining said treasure; above, you see the result of their carefully-worded pleas to their icons interacting in unexpected ways.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking. Always dangerous, that. The current situation for the group is this:

  • We get 4-5 people turning up to most sessions now. I can manage that without splitting the group into two teams.
  • Who turns up isn’t very predictable. That’s cool, it’s meant to be a drop-in game.
  • Most people regularly miss 2-3 weeks between sessions, and some as many as 8 or more. This makes it hard to progress a long-term story arc built around specific character backstories as well as introducing ‘skills fade’ on the rules.
  • The Roll20 character sheets keep breaking, not sure why, it only seems to happen on some buttons for some players. I’ve set up some buttons for common dice rolls as a backup, but it’s unclear how much that will help.

I’m making some changes to the campaign to suit this new situation.

  • I’m merging the teams back together. To explain why PCs change from one session to another, I’ll base them in either a city (which is near a lot of adventure sites, West Marches style) or aboard a ship (which visits lots of adventure sites, like pretty much any SF TV show you can name).
  • I’ll park the story arc, at least for now, and switch to short adventures that can be completed in a single session. Probably dungeons, as we seem to have the most fun in dungeons.
  • We’ll keep an eye on how the character sheets and buttons behave, and if they get too bad, we’ll switch to another game that uses the built-in dice roller without needing macros.

As and when circumstances change, we can always do something different.