Long-Range Planning

"I’ve felt the cold hand of my own mortality." – Frank Herbert, Dune

The events of the last couple of years have shown me that the end of my gaming career is now in sight, like it or not. Considering how the previous generation got on, and the plans people have already discussed with me, in big handfuls the future looks like this…

FUTURE HISTORY

2015-2025: I’ll still be at work, still playing every few weeks with my WFRP3 buddies (who will change game systems at least twice during that time), and gamemastering for the Shadows of Keron players every few months – most likely Beasts & Barbarians, but maybe something else.

Things to do:

  • Solo gaming – ten years of campaigns lasting six months each is 20 games; in reality I expect not many will be renewed for a second season, so I expect to exit this period still playing no more than a couple of them, having got the others out of my system.
  • Group gaming – ten years of (say) one session every three months is 40 sessions. Realistically, that is no more than another two campaigns at best; I’ll have to think long and hard before changing setting again.
  • Learn how to paint figures properly, while I still have eyes and hands good enough for it. If I assume one figure per month over that period on average, it’ll still be over a hundred; that should be enough to get me up to tabletop standard.
  • Sort out online gaming via Roll20, Google Hangouts and whatnot.

2025-2035: I’ll be retired, but still reasonably fit and healthy. The WFRP3 group’s regular GM will retire to France – either one of the others, possibly me, will take over as GM, or the group will break up at that point. However, my grandchildren will be in the 8-12 age range and ready to start playing, which will be great fun; especially if their parents join in too. I can hope for a face to face game every few weeks, but realistically every couple of months is more likely.

Things to do:

  • Teach grandchildren the joy of roleplaying. It would be remiss of me not to equip them with basic D&D skills as part of this, as if they carry on playing, that is what they’re most likely to encounter. It would be equally remiss to limit them to that.

2035-2045: This part is unlikely to be much fun; I’ll probably still be mentally active, but physically things start to look dodgy. The children will be the age I am now, the grandchildren leaving home to live their own lives; roleplaying with a decrepit grognard will not be a big part of those lives.

Things to do:

  • Get myself digitally uploaded into cyberspace. A destructive read will be fine by this point.

REFLECTIONS

That’s not so bad, is it? Just as well; I suspect there’s not much I can do about it.

The lesson to take away? You’ve got less gaming time left than you think. Make it count. Don’t waste it on anything less than the best, whatever that is for you.

"To suspect your own mortality is to know the beginning of terror; to learn irrefutably that you are mortal is to know the end of terror." – Frank Herbert, Dune

B&B Adventures as at February 2015

“In the lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by the great log fires, and they tell a tale…” – The Saga of Noggin the Nog

Long ago, I took a map of the Dread Sea Dominions and marked upon it all the Beasts & Barbarians adventures, and I promised that I would update it periodically. Alas, that is no longer practical, because the adventures in the Borderlands, Faberterra, Kyros and Zandor – the most popular locations – are clustered too close together now. But I can give you a list! You know where your party is, so check that area and see what’s around them…

ADVENTURES

GE = Beasts & Barbarians Golden Edition; BOD = Beasts of the Dominions.

The Borderlands: The Amulet of Dogskull (first part); The Betrayers of Rhybard (BOD); The Carnival of Nal Sagath; Moonless Night Over Grimdell; Wolves in the Borderlands (this is the one that persuaded me to buy B&B).

The Cairnlands: The Cliff Queen’s Court; The Price of Peace (BOD).

Caldeia: Death’s Cargo (BOD – second part).

Ekul: Shadows Over Ekul.

Faberterra: The Dread Shard; Green World; Main Attraction (BOD).

The Dread Sea: Eyes of the Night (BOD).

The Independent Cities: Death’s Cargo (BOD – first part).

The Iron Mountains: The Queen of the Lost Valley.

The Ivory Savannah: Hunter’s Moon (BOD)

Jalizar, City of Thieves: Grains of Death.

Kyros: A Matter of Love (BOD); Citadel of the Winged Gods; Thieves in the Night (Savage Insider #3).

Northeim: The Amulet of Dogskull (second part).

The Red Desert: Death of a Tyrant (this is the one the Shadows of Keron group enjoyed the most, I think).

Syranthia: The Skinner of Syranthia; The Whispered (BOD).

Tricarnia: Hosts (BOD).

Zandor: Vengeance of the Branded Devils (GE); Windborn (BOD). Jalizar is part of Zandor, so adventures there are technically in Zandor too.

PLACES WITH NO ADVENTURES YET

Ascaia, the Amazons’ Island; Caledland; the Cannibal Islands; the Fallen Realm of Keron; the Finger Islands; Gis, City of the Alchemists; the Islands of the Maimed Ones; the Land of the Idols; Lhoban; the Lush Jungle; the Troll Mountains; Valkheim; the Valk Steppe; the Verdant Belt.

Shadows of Keron, Episode 30: Hunter’s Moon

Shadows of Keron lurched briefly back into life over the weekend. Four of us found ourselves in a windswept cottage in Oxfordshire with a bunch of dice, more whiskey than the mind can comfortably conceive of, and a copy of Beasts of the Dominions.

HUNTER’S MOON

Since the group was last seen in the Ivory Savannah, that is where we pick up their story again. I had packed BoD because what one needs in these circumstances is a short, picaresque adventure that can be finished in a few hours; and in the Ivory Savannah we find Hunter’s Moon, an everyday story of tribesmen, merchant caravans, the Elephants’ Graveyard, and Things Man Was Not Meant To Know.

We established earlier that the group splintered at some point between Ekul and the Brown Sea, and is making its way home in penny packets. While our series regulars are off dealing death to Kumal the Smiling and picking up a piece of treasure they will really regret finding, three of the fellowship have taken passage with a merchant caravan across the Savannah, intending to cross that, then the Red Desert, and thus at last come home to the Independent Cities.

These worthies are Peter Perfect the Paladin, Seasoned holy warrior of Hulian; Abishag, Seasoned halfling thief (don’t ask); and Alihulk Junior, Seasoned fighting man and the living embodiment of the phrase “No retreat – no surrender”.

I will limit my report of the scenario to avoid spoilers, but here are a couple of vignettes for you:

  • Alihulk attempting to catch a man-eating lion by covering himself in raw meat and sleeping outdoors. He attracted a lot in the way of noisome vermin, but no lions.
  • Peter replaying the famous motion tracker scene from Aliens using Detect Arcana and a Thing Man Was Not Meant To Know.
  • Alihulk, mounted on a lame warpony, chasing down a burning lion (set on fire by Peter Perfect) and grappling it. That really didn’t end well for either party.

Hunter’s Moon worked well. The plot is very linear, but the players naturally followed it without apparently noticing that, and with no steering from me. A fine time was had by all.

LATIFUNDIUM

As veteran roleplayers, the party got through Hunter’s Moon more quickly than I’d expected, and I felt Alihulk and Abishag deserved some time in the spotlight as Peter had shone in that scenario.

So it was that they encountered an old witch in a walking hut (Baba Yaga-style) who had seen Alihulk’s father and brother earlier. Learning that the father, Alihulk Senior, had moved to Caldeia to become a dark sorceror – he is Alihulk Junior’s enemy, which is intriguing – and that Alihulk Junior’s younger brother had followed him there some time later, the party decided to follow them down the Buffalo River to Caldeia.

Peter Perfect was bent on overthrowing this stronghold of slavery and dark sorcery; Alihulk aimed to confront his father; and Abishag is designed for city work, so we ought to get him into a city for a bit.

I had a vague plan, based on Alihulk Senior being somehow connected with the Disciples of the Black Temple, a couple of recycled NPCs, and a copy of the Mythic GME tables, and this proved to be enough. In fact, it flowed more smoothly than Hunter’s Moon, because I didn’t need to look anything up.

The first sign of civilisation they found was a slave plantation. After maiming a slave overseer because he wouldn’t free the slaves, they decided to enter the villa and have it out with the plantation manager, who they had learned ran the place on behalf of a priest prince. There, Peter and Alihulk were mistaken for guests at the evening’s orgy, and Abishag for part of the entertainment. Taking ruthless advantage of this, they attempted to suborn the plantation manager with a plan for a more cost-efficient plantation operated by freedmen, and offered to stand in for the stable boys who would otherwise have to handle the Priest-Prince’s giant bat steed (“We usually have to replace a couple of stable boys when he visits on that, it’s vicious.”).

After much planning, they settled on ambushing the Priest-Prince as he arrived, using Lower Trait to discomfit his steed. He had realised something was wrong on the approach, and consequently survived the crash-landing because he had Deflection and Armour running, which also helped him with assorted stabbings. While his Amazon bodyguard was being run through by Alihulk, the Priest-Prince made a run for the edge of the roof, intending to leap off and trust to his Armour to save him from the fall; but Peter rugby-tackled him and then stabbed him fatally.

The plantation manager, arriving to greet his master, took in the scene quickly and realised that his life was forfeit. Secretly, he also has a thing for the Amazon, so ran to save her. Learning that the Amazons are loyal to whoever pays them, and that the death of her principal makes her life forfeit and her contract void, Peter heals her, and the party decamp before the three other Priest-Princes expected at the orgy can arrive.

They are now on the outskirts of Caldeia, planning their next move. Little do they know that Baaltasar the plantation manager is in fact a renegade Disciple of the Black Temple, on the run.

Good fun. Shadows of Keron practically writes itself by now.

Review: Last Parsec Deck Plans and Figure Flats

More goodies from The Last Parsec… in this week’s post, the ship deck plans and figure flats.

I’ll digress from my usual review structure, because for this kind of product content and format are really the same thing, and also figure flats are not things I use much, so it doesn’t seem fair to give them a rating.

There are four deck plans and two sets of flats available; the deck plans are for a dropship, a modular freighter, a pair of pirate ships, and a research vessel. The figure flats are basically the good guys ("Explorers") and the bad guys ("Terrors").

FIGURE FLATS

Let’s look at the figures first. The Explorers pack contains nearly 70 figures suitable for use as PCs or their sidekicks, comprising four constructs, three deaders, three florans, seven male and three female humans, eight insectoids, three kalians, three rakashans, three saurians, four aurax, four yetis, and a serran (which could also work as another female human); many of these use the iconic art from other products in the line, for example the serran is the same artwork as in the SFC itself, and some of them are named, which suggests they are from existing or planned products – I haven’t checked. Additionally there are seven JumpCorp Marines, seven JumpCorp  security troopers, a squad of eight saltarians and their commander, and two armed exploration vehicles. With the exception of the JumpCorp and saltarian troops, who have multiple instances of the same pose, all of the figures are different.

In the Terrors pack, you get six security bots, a shady-looking dude called Kerastus, three librarians, two stringers, nine kragmen and two kragman shamans, eleven each of canyon, desert, forest, mountain and high sethis, three shock mantas, three drakes, two maulers, nine ravagers, nine spitters, one apex (as in apex predator), six arc beetles, one omariss death worm, five mysterious entities and one giant mysterious entity. All except the mysterious entities are from one of the TLP setting books. These being NPC mooks and local fauna rather than heroes, you get only one or two poses per type of being.

Some of the figures are 2D counters, but most are trifold standees; you fold each figure into a three-cornered prism and stand it on end. I always have trouble gluing those together, so I’d probably trim them to front-and-back and put them in some sort of stand. Personally I’d use the silhouette for the back and a colour image for the front, as in some of the games I play, it matters which way figures are facing.

DECK PLANS

The deck plans are provided as poster-sized full-colour images, overlaid with a square grid at the standard Savage Worlds one inch equals six feet (although you could print them at different scales to suit your figures, obviously). Each one would use 12 pages of A4 or Letter size paper to print out.

The dropship is a short-haul vessel, not suitable for long journeys. The internal areas suitable for combat or whatever consist of (fore to aft): A four-person cockpit; a passenger area with seats for 36; a utility section containing an office, a meeting room (or possibly sick bay, it has a bunk bed), a bathroom, and a weird red disk that might be a hatch, or a teleporter, or anything else you fancy; and a large cargo bay full of crates , with a small vehicle for loading and unloading them. It’s not entirely clear how those get in and out, as there are no suitable doors; I presume there’s a ceiling hatch.

The freighter has three deckplans, side by side, which I shall call the bridge, the crew quarters, and the cargo module. Looking at the cover picture and how the stairs are laid out, I’d say the bridge is on top of the crew quarters, and there’s a cargo module behind each one – possibly many cargo modules, much like freight cars in a railway train. The bridge deck has a seven-person control room, a large mess area, an airlock and a stairway leading down; the crew quarters has stairs up to the bridge, one stateroom with a double bed and a workstation, two four-person bunk rooms, a sick bay, a bathroom, and a lounge with a couch, a pool table, and an exercise bike. The cargo module is a boxy affair, full of crates and barrels, with what look like palm-keyed security doors fore and aft. I didn’t like this one at first, but it’s growing on me, because it’s actually many different freighters in one – print out multiple copies and make the ship as big as you like. That would’ve been easier if the decks had been on separate pages, though.

The pirate ship map has two small ships on it, one of which has two decks. The whitish vessel on the left of the poster seems to be some sort of high-performance, short-range craft, possibly a fighter; there are three crew stations and two jump seats. The more sombre craft on the right of the poster has a four-person bridge, bunk room, bathroom and small cargo area on the upper deck, while the lower deck has more cargo space and a sort of ship’s basement with a workbench and a meeting/dining table; the two decks are connected by ladders port and starboard.

The research ship map is another modular one, with two pods and a main ship – it’s not yet clear to me how they connect together, unless maybe the stairs in the pods lead up to the apparent floor hatch in the main section? If so, the ship can probably only have one pod at a time. The pods are a plain cargo pod with a few crates in it, and a spartan passenger pod with a kitchenette, bathroom, workstation and four cramped bedrooms. The ship proper has an expensive-looking bridge with six workstations, two of which are noticeably larger and better-equipped than the others – science stations, perhaps. Aft of that is something that might (or might not) be a sleeping area, with 2-4 things that might (or might not) be beds, depending on how you interpret their shapes. Behind that are four workstation areas, again two have large, expensive-looking displays. The main section of this map is the one I found hardest to interpret, generally what’s what is very clear on all the maps.

REFLECTIONS

The freighter and pirate maps together give you a solid set of multi-purpose, reusable deck plans. The dropship is OK, but less obviously useful in my games – I can only recall needing a dropship deck plan once in nearly 40 years of gamemastering SF RPGs. The research ship has potential, but it’s not immediately obvious how the pieces fit together.

On the figure flats front, these do the job and cover off all the iconic SFC races, with enough variety to differentiate between the PCs and major NPCs, plus a range of mooks and beasts of various sizes for them to face off against.

And on a personal note, I’m pleased I Kickstarted TLP at a high enough level to get all the PDFs. Win.

Review: The Enigma Equation

Kickstarting The Last Parsec is truly a gift that keeps on giving; I’m still getting PDF downloads intermittently. Next up: The Enigma Equation, 32 page adventure for that setting. You’ll need Savage Worlds Deluxe, and the Sci-Fi Companion, to make full use of it.

CONTENTS

The meat of this booklet is in three sections; Prime, The Enigma Equation, and Travelers & Xenos.

Prime (12 pages): This is essentially a repeat of the free setting primer, which I reviewed here. It’s Firefly meets Star Wars, except there is no central government to rebel against. The main rules clarification is for hyperspace jumps, which in this setting rely on navigation beacons, much as in Babylon 5.

The Enigma Equation (16 pages): This adventure in two acts begins when the team members are sent by JumpCorp to the planet Tomb, home of a JumpCorp research station, but since it was attacked by a group of strange insectoids the head researcher is missing… How are the mysterious Umbra Artefact and the even more mysterious Enigma Equation involved?

Travelers & Xenos (4 pages): Half-a-dozen foes, some reusable (especially the Djinn) and others not so much.

FORMAT

The usual Last Parsec trade dress; full colour throughout, option to turn off the page background in the PDF, pages formatted to look like a tablet PC readout, colour illustrations on most pages.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I’m ambiguous about repeating the primer in an adventure. Still, it didn’t cost me any extra, and even at full price the whole product is about six bucks. This is the sort of thing one usually sees bundled with a GM’s screen, and I vaguely remember reading somewhere that was the original intent.

CONCLUSIONS

I am still struggling to abandon my passion for worldbuilding, but with each Last Parsec adventure I come to understand a little better how that might work. I would be able to recycle the worlds and adventure hooks from any previous campaign just by throwing away the maps.

This little scenario is linked to Scientorium via one of its more enigmatic NPCs, and might make a good lead-in to the larger book. It also hints tantalisingly at a forthcoming TLP setting book which will explore things left unexplained at the end of this particular mission; Pinnacle could keep this up for years before the inevitable accretion of detail solidifies the setting into something hard to write for.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5. A fun little adventure, but it goes into the stack of Last Parsec goodies for potential later use. Perhaps I’m being unduly harsh because of the recycled Primer stuff.

Shadowrunners at the House on the Hill

Five of the old group joined us for Christmas, which was great, but the inertia generated by rich holiday food meant no-one was much in the mood for roleplaying. Instead, we turned to board games: Shadowrun Crossfire and Betrayal at the House on the Hill, both highly recommended, and neither of them mine, so I have not yet broken my resolution not to buy any more games in 2015! Hah!

Not sure how long that will last. Anyway…

Shadowrun: Crossfire

This is a co-operative deck building game. Waves of foes assault the players, who can play cards from their hands to defeat them; removing an enemy from play gives you money tokens with which to buy more cards. The co-operative element comes in because the players share the money tokens, whoever kills an opponent, and players can attack other players’ foes. There’s a roleplaying element too, as each deck is built around a character card, and successfully completing a game gives the player karma points, which are used to buy power-ups – these take the form of repeelable stickers which you apply to the character card. More experienced runners can take on more difficult missions, there being three scenarios in the basic game: Crossfire (survive three waves of foes), Extraction (survive six waves while protecting an NPC client), and messing with a dragon. We are not ready for that one yet.

(My recurring character is an ork whose portrait looks like Bruce Willis, so I’m buffing him with multiple instances of the Got Your Backs power-up, which allows him to pull a group of enemies onto him, get staggered by their combined damage, and then recover to active status again.)

Crossfire does an excellent job of evoking the Shadowrun universe without being enslaved by its rules, and of genuinely encouraging co-operative play whilst retaining an element of tension. It even has a solitaire mode, and the average game takes roughly an hour. It works best with four players, but we used it with one, three, four and five.

Betrayal at the House on the Hill

In this, players assume the roles of stereotypical characters from survival horror B-movies, exploring a haunted house. Each character is rated for its Speed (movement), Might (combat), Knowledge and Sanity. The haunted house is built by drawing tiles from a deck; symbols on the tiles reveal whether they contain an omen, an item or an event, which are drawn from card decks as needed and are a mixture of good stuff and bad stuff. At some point during the game, bad stuff will trigger a betrayal by one of the players; that player then looks up the nature of his or her treachery in one rulebook, while the others plot their countermeasures from another. There are quite a few variations, including the traitor collapsing the house into the Abyss, a madman supported by zombies, and the house rolling up on top of the players from the outside in.

(In the first game we played, I found myself playing the aged and knowledgable character, with a girl companion, a holy symbol, and constructive possession of the Mystic Elevator, which moves randomly around the house. Clearly, therefore, I was Doctor Who.)

Betrayal is every cheesy horror movie you’ve ever seen, with an interesting mixture of co-operative and competitive play, and enormous replay value. We used it with four players, but it should work with three to six. Again, a game takes roughly an hour.

We played more Crossfire, but I think Betrayal would be more accessible to the casual gamer.

Coda

And in other news, the players politely informed me that the Shadows of Keron campaign is not dead, just resting until they can get back together again, and that I may not consider it closed. Good news, I think, even though it may be a while before we play again. We should finish the Artefacts scenarios for Shadowrun first, though, since that has a story arc, and Shadows of Keron doesn’t, it’s just picaresque sword-and-sorcery adventures.

2014 in Retrospect

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
– JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.

Let’s be honest, 2014 pretty much sucked.

  • Games played: 9 (5 of WFRP3, and one each of All Things Zombie, Dogs in the Vineyard, OD&D, Classic Traveller). That’s the worst for a long, long time. Dogs in the Vineyard might even have been my swan song as a GM – hopefully not, but if it was, there are worse ways to bow out.
  • Items reviewed: About a dozen. It’s not worth doing a top five this year.
  • Figures painted: 0. Well, 10 half-painted. Does that count as five?
  • Players in group: 3, dropping to 0. On the plus side, even as the group died, it spawned a Savage Worlds group in Brighton (with Nick as GM) and possibly a Dogs in the Vineyard group in California, so at worst the torch has been handed on.
  • Close relatives lost: Too damned many, one way and another, which explains all of the above. I expect it to be well into 2016 before the fallout from all of them is processed.

Outlook for 2015:

  • Games played: 14 (10 WFRP3, 3 Savage Worlds, 1 OD&D).
  • Items reviewed, figures painted: 0 (because what’s the point).
  • Players in group: 0 (2-4 irregulars, probably different ones each session).
  • Close relatives lost: No more, hopefully.

Lessons learned:

  • Make a will. Set up a Lasting Power of Attorney. Seriously, people, do these things right now. You cannot imagine the mess you leave behind otherwise. If you’re saying "Yeah, yeah, I’ll get around to it later," remember – you don’t get to choose whether there is a "later".
  • I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: GMs, your current group is transient. Keep an eye out for new players to replace the inevitable losses. Mind you, by the mid-2020s, I could be introducing my grandchildren to RPGs, which would be very cool.
  • For the foreseeable future, I’ll play more WFRP3 than anything, so maybe I should learn the rules. Pity they’re so complex.
  • I’ll still see my old players, a couple at a time, for a few hours every 3-6 months; but if there’s to be any gaming, I need to avoid changing things on them, and finish each adventure within a single session. So, that probably means one-shot adventures for Savage Worlds’ Beasts & Barbarians, using their existing characters; frankly, I could do a lot worse than that.
  • Any new gamers I find are most likely to be familiar with The Lord of the Rings (best-selling fantasy or SF book ever, by a country mile), Dungeons & Dragons (outguns all other RPGs put together in terms of player base), or Star Wars (third highest-grossing movie ever, when you adjust for inflation). So any future changes of rules or setting should head in those directions.
  • I should set up some sort of solo Savage Worlds game to avoid skills fade on the rules. Maybe carry on with ATZ. Not feeling terribly motivated at the moment, though.

-o0o-

Overall, it looks like I’m heading into a lean time for gaming. That has happened a couple of times before, and each time it lasted 3-5 years. Mind you, the last couple of times there was no gaming at all in those periods, so I’m doing better this time.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. See you on the other side.