Shadows of Keron 32: Hosts

While the rest of the party amused themselves ignoring the plotline and fomenting rebellion in Caldeia City, Alihulk Junior was out pounding the streets looking for clues to his father’s whereabouts. By tracing orders of his father’s favourite foods, wines and types of slave among the city’s markets, and talking to the delivery men, he triangulated his father’s position. The party tooled up those of their freedmen who had military experience and set off, posing as merchants bearing gifts as the first step in broadening their trading network. To recap, at this point the group consists of a paladin of Hulian with his Amazon bodyguard, a fat albino pygmy, a half-Nandal, Alihulk Junior, simmering with revenge, a Caldeian estate manager, and five Ivory Savannah spearmen recently freed from slavery and pretending to be slave-soldiers escorting the others.

The story arc was now back on track and I led the party into Hosts, a scenario from Beasts of the Dominions. That was published four years ago, so without giving away the full details I feel comfortable revealing that it is an everyday story of an estate in ruins, giant mutated life-forms, and evil sorcery.

Pausing only to succour the pregnant girl and slaughter the estate-owner’s henchman they met on the way in, they entered the estate and encountered the aforementioned giant mutants. All the NPCs bar two (the estate manager and one spearman) panicked and fled into the nearby cane thickets, where the mutants hunted them down and killed almost all of them – Hippolyta the Amazon was recovered at death’s door after the scenario and saved by Peter’s Healing, which surely can only reinforce her devotion to him.

Undeterred, the party managed to reach safety in the mansion’s tower ahead of their foes and slam the door, after which they noticed screaming upstairs. Marching to the sound of the screams, they found Alihulk Senior engaged in dark sorcery involving a terrified girl and attacked him directly.

Alihulk Junior drew a two of hearts, and just stood there sputtering while his father exclaimed “Still a disappointment, I see,” and laid into the others. Losing the melee after a few rounds, our dark sorceror teleported away, and while the NPCs cowered on the ground floor, everyone except Abishag piled outside in pursuit, taking a moment to set fire to the tower.

“Hulian’s divine instructions are clear,” Peter explained. “If in doubt, kill it with fire.”

Abishag, of course, started looting the building, but one of the spearmen (established on the journey in as being violently hostile to pygmies) took advantage of the distraction to stab him with a spear. This sideshow continued while Peter, Alihulk and Borg ran after the evil sorceror, to find him surrounded by giant mutant creatures drawn up in serried ranks and waiting for them.

A long and brutal melee ensued, but at length the sorceror felt it appropriate to flee on mutant creature-back. Alihulk Junior chose this moment to consume his potion of Speed, run after them, and leap up to grapple his father, casting aside his customary two longswords.

A truly cinematic fistfight ensued, burning through bennies right and left, until they both fell off the sorceror’s mount. The sorceror then teleported away and ran off, but was detained by a bolt of Hulian’s holy fire from Peter and a stab wound donated by Borg. A frenzied Alihulk then ran up and proceeded to beat his father – his enemy – to death with his fists.

Reflections

The encounter between Alihulks Senior and Junior was everything I could’ve hoped for; the younger apparently freezing once face to face with the man he has been chasing for the last six years real time, and goodness knows how long in game time. The slippery sorceror escaping again and again, only to be caught by the son he has so often spurned. The fistfight atop a charging mutant. The near-escape, Alihulk’s friends slowing down the villain long enough for Alihulk to catch him, and the final showdown.

Most satisfying.

But what about Alihulk’s Enemy Hindrance? I asked his player. Now that his enemy is dead?

“Back on the Ivory Savannah,” he said, “That old witch told me I have a brother…”

Shadows of Keron 31: The Windowless Tower

It’s gratifying that the Shadows of Keron campaign refuses to die, but I have to take into account that some of the younger players are moving on with their lives, so if possible, the story arcs involving their PCs need to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion while they are still around.

Thus it was that last weekend the party found themselves on the outskirts of Caldeia City, in pursuit of Alihulk Senior, chaos cultist, evil demon-worshipper, dark sorceror, and Alihulk Junior’s father. (The player took the character’s own father as the focus of his Enemy Hindrance at character creation.)

Alihulk’s player was unable to join us for the Saturday session, so the plan was that the group would move into Caldeia City and pick up the sorceror’s trail, then when the missing player arrived for the Sunday session, we would follow that up with the final dramatic showdown.

I thought that The Windowless Tower from Places of the Dominions would be a nice way to lead up to that, and strewed clues to that location and Alihulk Senior’s whereabouts and current plans in their path.

Naturally, they ignored all these clues completely. Instead, posing as Independent Cities merchants trying to break into the drugs and slave trade, they set up a meeting with a minor Caldeian nobleman. They promptly murdered him, took over his villa, and set up a complex scheme of buying the stroppiest slaves they could find, putting them through cold turkey to remove all traces of drugs from their systems, deprogramming them, and releasing them into the city.

Why, you ask? I certainly did. It turns out Peter Perfect the paladin of Hulian has taken a disliking to the Caldeians since their economy is based on trading slaves and addictive drugs, and has developed a fanatical focus on overthrowing King Caldaios. Since the only character in the party who has Streetwise or any similar skill is run by the player who couldn’t make this session, they decided they couldn’t find the revolutionary underground, so they would have to do something that attracted its attention. Luckily for them the underground found them before the secret police did, and promised to return later for serious negotiations.

Learning that the dead nobleman had visited the Windowless Tower did attract their attention, and they visited it themselves for long enough to ransack it, kill almost everything inside, and burn it to the ground. I tell you, Old School roleplaying is alive and well around here.

Meanwhile, thanks to some astonishing reaction rolls, the amazon bodyguard they picked up at the end of episode 30 has developed a crush on Peter (who is charismatic, noble, honourable, and somewhat dim). The party have renamed her Hippolyta, and one name is as good as another, so I let that stand. The lady of the house, following another set of whacky dice rolls, turns out to be [a] smokin’ hot, [b] a keen poisoner, and [c] convinced that the best chance of survival for her and her children is a romantic dalliance with Peter. So a game of cat and mouse has developed, with the Caldeian noblewoman trying to poison the Amazon, and the Amazon trying to stab the noblewoman while no-one is looking. Peter has the Clueless Hindrance and is thus largely oblivious to this, but Abishag the hobbit poisoner-assassin is well aware of it all and watching with great amusement, meanwhile teaching the children of the house all he knows about killing people. He justifies this by pointing out they are the only people he knows who do not trigger his Quirk of “Hates everyone taller than him.”

The estate manager (Balthazar) they also picked up at the end of episode 30 fancies the Amazon, so is quietly supporting the noblewoman. He is also a closet sorceror on the run from his school of wizardry, but this has not yet come to light.

Borg, meanwhile, originally a half-orc, has never felt more at home, thanks to the Caldeian practice of modifying their slaves using drugs, cross-breeding, and vile sorcery. Aside from Tricarnia this is likely the only place in the Dominions where a party consisting of what appears to be four humans, a half-Nandal, and a fat albino pygmy can pass without attracting undue attention.

Arion, Episode 21: Boarding Action

Continuing the simulation theme and exploring another part of the Fringe Space rules I haven’t tried, let’s take a look at the abstract boarding system. These are optional rules for use if you don’t want to play out the boarding action as a Confrontation encounter on the tabletop.

Let’s suppose that our simulated Navy cutter had won the dogfight in episode 20, reduced the Dolphin’s Thrust to zero, won the next round on the Dogfight table, and opted to board. This takes us from p. 52 to p. 86 where the Boarding table lives.

Let’s further suppose that both sides are at full Hull and bonus dice. First I check whether the Navy will use their bonus dice; on a roll of 6 on one die, they elect not to. Each captain now rolls (Rep + Hull) d6; Arion rolls (5 + 3) d6 = 66561315 for 3 successes, and the Navy get (3 + 4) d6 = 2312351 for 6 successes, plus an extra d6 for having a Cutter’s Marine Detachment (3 = +1 success), plus one success for being a military vessel. Total: Arion 3, Navy 8 – a fairly convincing win for the Navy.

(On average luck, Arion would have got 4 successes and the Navy 5 – still a win for the Navy but by a smaller margin.)

The Navy force the crew of the Dolphin to surrender, and we go to the Terms of Surrender table. Here we roll against the boarder’s Rep (3); 2d6 (usual) +1d6 (military boarders) -1d6 (crew resisted boarding) = 2d6 overall. A score of 11 = pass 2d6; as the Dolphin is not a military vessel, the boarders take all cargo and valuables, but leave the crew and passengers alive and allow them to leave with their ship.

AFTERMATH

Again, a simulation, so no increasing or decreasing Rep rolls.

REFLECTIONS

Again, a fast, simple set of rules, easy to use, and no requirement for figures or terrain.

Had I been playing to win, rather than to test out the rules, I would either have played this as a Confrontation, where Arion’s Rep and attributes would offer more of an advantage, or have burned bonus dice on the boarding table roll – two, I think, to offset the Navy’s statistical advantage, but with dice rolls like that it probably wouldn’t have helped.

Interestingly, if you think you are going to lose the boarding action, you are better off if the boarding captain has a high Rep – low Rep ones are more likely to panic and kill you all, there was a 25% chance of that in this example.

Next time, on the Arioniad: Back to the actual story…

Arion, Episode 20: Dogfight

I haven’t tried out the Fringe Space ship combat rules yet, so let’s imagine for a moment that encountering the cutter last episode had turned into a fight – picture it as a combat simulation for Arion to hone his skills and while away the long nights in hyperspace. As I’m new to this part of the THW rules system you get a didactic post with little narrative voice this time.

SETUP

Arion is flying a stock trader, which has Thrust 3, Firepower 2, and Hull 3. The minimum crew is 3, and there are only two crewmembers aboard, so Arion is at -1 Rep. However, even reduced to Rep 4, he still has Ace and Steely Eyes, so he will count +1d6 and +2 successes on the Dogfight table, and +1 success on the Taking Control table. Although the rules are slightly ambiguous on this point, I decide that as Arion has an effective Rep of 4, he begins with 4 bonus dice.

The opposition is a Star Navy cutter, which has Thrust 3, Firepower 4 and Hull 4. We’ll assume a full crew. Her captain has Rep 3 and Rage, giving him +1d6 on the Taking Control table. He thus has 3 bonus dice.

Each captain rolls 1d6, Arion getting 3 and the Navy captain getting 5. Navy therefore draws the first chance card. There appear to be 11 of these (the ones in orange type on p. 100) so shuffle and draw – Asteroid, opposing ship loses one success on the Dogfight table to dodge an asteroid. The Navy will play this as soon as possible, as per the rules for NPCs (p. 49).

TURN 1

We begin on the Dogfight Table, and there are only two ships so who fights who is obvious. Each captain rolls Rep dice, looking for successes; Arion gets 2422 = 3 successes, +1 for being an Ace, +1 for having Steely Eyes, -1 because of the Asteroid card which the Navy plays as soon as possible, i.e. now. Total, 4 successes. The Navy meanwhile rolls 263 = 2 successes.

We move to the Taking Control table, with Arion counting +2d6 as he scored two more successes, and again both captains roll Rep. Arion gets a modified 5 successes (2 from dice, +1 Ace, +2 from successes on Dogfight table), Navy 2 successes (1 from dice, +1 for being military). Arion lines up a shot and we move to the Fire table.

Arion scored 3 more successes than the Navy, so now rolls 3d6 vs the Dolphin’s Firepower (2); 252 = 2 hits, which I allocate against the enemy Hull (no witnesses!) reducing it to 2.

The Navy now go to the Continue On table to see whether they fancy dancing some more with somebody this good. Navy rolls 2d6, -2d6 for the two Hull hits taken, +1d6 for being military, so 1d6 overall. They roll a 4, and pass 0d6. This means they run for it.

Each side now rolls 1d6 + Thrust; Arion gets 4 + 3 = 7, and Navy gets 4 + 3 = 7. Since the Navy’s total is not greater than that of all pursuing ships, they surrender.

AFTERMATH

Since I declared this as a simulation up front, there are no Rep dice, positive or negative. Had this been a real fight, Arion would have got two increasing Rep d6, one for firing at an enemy and causing damage (though you can only claim that once per month) and one for destroying or capturing an enemy ship.

REFLECTIONS

Even as a novice, this is a very quick and simple combat system – you’ll notice that for a one-on-one dogfight no counters or models are necessary, although I would want to use them if there were more than one ship on a side.

I don’t like the chance cards and won’t use them again. That’s just me, probably, I’m going off drawing cards in general at the moment (which bodes ill for Savage Worlds, but that’s another story).

Life is good when you’re a Steely-Eyed Ace. Especially when the opposition has a rubbish captain.

Arion, Episode 19: The Searchers

April 2220 Setup

It’s not clear where in the strategic turn sequence (page 21) resolving Job Offers should go, but it makes most sense to me if they occur at the beginning of the turn, before random encounters. This is because any jobs hauling cargo or passengers will dictate strategic movement, and if Job Offers happen after that, Arion loses a month between jobs, which a hardscrabble free trader can’t afford. So:

  • Job Offers (4): [1] Joe #6, Manufacturing, Cargo Hauling, Ring 1 Sector 2 3/2 Gaea Prime, Rep -1 +3. [2] Joe #9, Specialist, Rescue. Rep -1 +3. [3] Criminal #9, Hacker, Rescue. Rep -1 +3. [4] Joe #6, Specialist, Rescue. Three rescue jobs in a row? I’ll lump the three of them together and use them as an excuse for travel; spending three decreasing Rep dice to take the jobs sounds like tooling up. I’ll decline the cargo hauling job.
  • Starting location: Fermanagh, Ring 1, Sector 4. Random Event: No. Campaign Movement: Yes, move to sector 1 to gain access to inter-ring travel. Encounter: None (they are optional, and I want to start moving).
  • PEFs (3): [1] Something’s Out There [2] Star Navy Cutter [3] Something’s Out There.

Fermanagh, April 2220

“Mr Osheen, I think it’s time we left Fermanagh.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“We need money, though.” Arion browses to the spaceport jobs board on the main display.

“Hmm. Running cargo to Gaea Prime space, I think not; the police there would shoot you on sight, Mr Osheen. Hmm. Look at this; three separate rewards for finding and returning missing persons… Ah, I see, while I was having fun with Ms MacDonald there was a raid by Hishen slavers. I wonder if they’re connected to that Razor I bumped into? No matter. Mr Osheen, what equipment do you think we should pick up for this mission? We need to rescue three unarmed civilians, I don’t know where they are but they will be under armed guard.” The grath looks the captain up and down, and considers for a moment.

“You should wear your body armour and get two machine pistols. We will require a squad support weapon, body armour, and the largest available blender.”

“What’s the blender for?”

“It will simplify consuming our enemies’ bodily fluids for nourishment.”

“Ooookaaay… I’m going to take us to a place I know in Ring 5, we can go shopping and find out where the slavers are; then we can ask them where they took the slaves. Hopefully all to the same buyer.”

“Will questioning the slavers create an opportunity to absorb their bodily fluids for nourishment?”

“Almost certainly.”

Deep Space, Ring 1, April 2220

The Dolphin encounters a Star Navy Cutter, whose captain is a Rep 3 Basic with the Rage attribute; fortunately, as we are outgunned, Arion wins the Talk the Talk; the ships exchange pleasantries then go their separate ways. There is no need to record the NPC captain.

Admin

Arion began with a lifetime Rep of 7. He deducts 2 for crew upkeep (one for him and one for Osheen), and three for the jobs he has taken on. He hasn’t done anything that would increase Rep, so there are 5 decreasing Rep dice and a final Lifetime Rep of 2. Arion rolls 22435 for the decreasing Rep dice, and retains his Rep of 5.

Reflections

I see a story arc is already emerging; find the slavers, find the slaves, bring them back. This will likely lead to ongoing animosity with one or more of Razors, Hishen, and pirates.

Much like other story-driven THW games, you get some months in Fringe Space when nothing much happens.

Arion Episode 18: Recruiting

“So, Mr Osheen, thank you for responding to my job advert – nice to see you again. Let’s get right to it. What do you hope to achieve as First Mate on the Dolphin?”

“We wish to kill our enemies and absorb their bodily fluids for nourishment.”

“I see. And have you any previous experience of this kind of work?

“We have killed many enemies and absorbed their bodily fluids. For nourishment. The local police do not approve. We do not understand why.”

“No, I meant do you know anything about starship operations – piloting, engineering, navigation, that kind of thing.”

“We know that we must protect the Captain and prevent others from killing him and absorbing his bodily fluids for nourishment. We also know that we must not absorb the hydraulic fluid for nourishment. Or the hyperdrive coolant.”

“You know what, Mr. Osheen, the way things have been going lately, that’s good enough. You’re hired.”

MONTH-END ADMIN – MARCH 2220

Firstly, I decided Arion needs some muscle if he’s out in the Big Dark all alone, so I recruit the Grath Criminal for that purpose; I also think he will be a handy foil for Arion in future writeups, as the Grath are big, dumb, nearly indestructible, and can absorb any fluid for nourishment. I need to be careful to keep him aboard ship in Gaea Prime space though, as they will shoot him on sight.

Rep

As you can see, a single month can include several encounters, any of which could result in increasing Rep d6; so the support cost of one decreasing Rep d6 per group member per month isn’t going to be as harsh as I expected. I suspect the bulk of increasing dice will come from adventures on-planet, though.

  • Starting Lifetime Rep +1
  • Support -2, completing the trading mission +4
  • Encounters: +3 for episode 15, +1 for episode 16, -1 for episode 17.
  • Net increasing Rep this month +6 – roll 255242, no change to Rep.
  • Ending Lifetime Rep +7.

Contacts

Hmm, the contacts are racking up quite quickly here, not sure I want to track those. I might just say that when the ship lifts, all debts are paid, and the contact list resets. Rather than rolling to confirm whether an NPC has been met previously or not, I might decide that if the same NPC stats are rolled again (say, #10 on the Exotic table) it’s the same NPC.

  • Perry Anderson (Rep 4 Politician, Corinth)
  • Roger Houston (Rep 5 Pilot, Corinth, previously recruited)
  • Captain Pollard Lush (Rep 4 Drunkard, Gaea Prime light freighter – history)
  • Anne MacDonald (Rep 5 Corporate Exec, Shaker NPC #10, Fermanagh)
  • Officer 182 (Rep 4 Grath Police, Exotic NPC #10, Fermanagh – history)
  • Xeog and two Hishen police impersonators (Exotic NPCs 5, 7 and 11 – history)
  • First Mate Osheen (Rep 4 Grath Criminal, Exotic NPC #9, Fermanagh, previously recruited)

Worlds

Looking at the sample systems table on p. 82 I can see I’ve already established enough detail to fill in the rest for the campaign worlds mentioned to date, so I did that. I also note that the home world tables on p. 13 generate different results, so decide not to worry about it and just pick whatever seems appropriate.

  • Corinth: 1/4 Indy Basic, Ring 3, Sector 1
  • Fermanagh: 2/3 Indy Basic, Ring 1, Sector 4
  • Makaria: 2/4 Indy Basic, Ring 3, Sector 6

REFLECTIONS

The campaign movement for a typical trading run would be: Month 1 – move from planet of departure to sector 1 in current ring. Month 2 – move to sector 1 in destination ring. Month 3 – move to destination planet. Three months for a cargo run seems a bit long to me.

For further study: Fringe Space looks like it will be good for ongoing picaresque wandering, but one thing I did like about Larger Than Life was the story arc. I’ll reread FS in depth and see how that sense of direction and progress could be incorporated.

Arion, Episode 17: Face-Off

“Arion.”

“Ms McDonald.”

“Enough is enough, Arion. A problem isn’t solved until you have stopped it happening again. I want to meet these people, on my terms.”

“How will we arrange that?”

“Leave that to me. Be at the godown at eight PM. Bring lots of guns.”

Setup

Another confrontation, p. 45. Arion and Ms McDonald are causing the confrontation, at night. I’ll override the Who Are They? table to force a Criminal result, then work through tables on pp 70-75 to find out who the opposition are; they turn out to be two criminals, #2 and #6 – a Rep 4 Razor with a machine pistol and a Rep 4 Zhuh-Zhuh sidekick with a BAP.

What about Ms MacDonald? A Corporate Exec with (roll 1) body armour – and a BAP now Arion has loaned her one. I roll on the Shaker table on p. 72 and get #10, changing the gender to match her; Rep 5, Fast, Drunkard, Cruel. One begins to wonder who the real villain is here; this sort of emergent situation is one of the fun parts of THW games.

The sides are 6″ apart, facing each other, and being gangers the opposition will use deadly force from the outset. We go straight to a Draw with both sides active.

Turn 1

Arion draws, rolling 6d6 (5 for his Rep and 1 for Steely Eyes); he rolls 211116 for 5 successes. The Razor gets 2 successes, the Zhuh-Zhuh 2, and MacDonald 3. Characters now fire in descending order of successes; Arion fires twice at the Razor, hitting her once and forcing her to Duck Back. MacDonald hits the Zhuh-Zhuh twice and he Ducks Back as well. Arion and MacDonald move into cover. (Parenthetically, Arion has now won a Draw and in future will count Draw rolls of 1-4 as successes rather than the usual 1-3.)

The enemy now becomes active and pops up to return fire, triggering an In Sight test. Arion rolls 4d6 (5 basic, +1 Steely Eyes, -1 target in cover, -1 target is a Razor) and gets 2 successes. MacDonald gets 2 as well, the Razor gets 3 and the Zhuh-Zhuh gets 1. The razor fires her mental blast (her best move as it is an area effect which ignores cover), missing MacDonald but scoring Obviously Dead on Arion – Star Power to the fore, 3 successes and he’s back in the fight. MacDonald takes a Received Fire test as she was shot at but missed, 2d6 vs Rep 5 on the Shaker table as an LWC and passes 1d6 (6,3) so she Leaves the Tabletop, abandoning Arion with two enemies and a decreasing Rep die. This triggers a Man Down test for Arion, but as a Star he can choose his result and he decides to stick around for another turn.

Turn 2

Arion blasts away at the Razor, missing, and having rolled double ones is out of ammo – time for a New York reload, and he pulls out his spare BAP. Both the Razor and the Zhuh-Zhuh return fire; the Razor switches to her machine pistol as that gives her more chances to hit, and she hits twice, forcing two Duck Backs, at which point the Zhuh-Zhuh can’t see Arion and thus holds his fire. Arion doesn’t like the odds and decides to Leave the Tabletop.

The police are not interested, so there’s the end of it.

Reflections

Another fast and figure-free encounter. While this is very practical for me, it’s very different to what I’m used to and I’m not sure whether in the long term I will prefer it to figures and terrain on a table.

I think I have the rules down pat now, though, so I plan to shift to a more narrative approach for future encounters. Maybe with pictures, although in honesty they will be mostly for show.