Friday, August 28, 2015

RPG a Day 2015, Day 28

Day 28: Favorite Game You No Longer Play

There are actually a few.

I would have to say Mage: The Ascension.



I didn't play a lot of it, but what I did I really enjoyed.  Have not had the chance to play it the last 10 or so years.



Thursday, August 27, 2015

PWWO: Dark Albion and War of the Witch Queens

I mentioned previously Dark Albion and Fantastic Heroes & Witchery by their very natures are compatible with a wide variety of games and game supplements.  So doing a "Plays Well With Others" sort of post seems a bit redundant.  But that doesn't mean I can't try something a little more different.

 

One thing I always wanted to do was run a dark age WitchCraft RPG game.  Set in the 1600s it would deal with rival factions of the Gifted fighting each other while Europe descends into the Burning Times.  It struck me how close that idea was some things I was also planning in my War of the Witch Queens adventures.

Reading over Dark Albion I kept thinking that while the Rose War is cool and all but later periods are much more fun.  Setting it in the later later ages, say the Elizabethan or even during the time of King James I, gives another backdrop. During Elizabeth England was very stable, but during James that is gone. 

Take some of the ideas from Dark Albion but advance them to 1580 or so during the reign of King James.  This is also the height of the witch craze in Europe.  This allows me to use William Shakespeare and John Dee.  I might make Dee an Occultist.  Seems right.  Plus I can take the occultist class and make it into a passable Occult Poet.

Another point of commonality is Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. I wanted to use it as a game system for both Dark Albion and my witch adventures.  I think it would work out well.  I need to find locales in "Dark" Europe for all of these adventures.

It would be one of the ultimate tests of the whole OSR ideal. Can products written for different games and different times all work together?

System: Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea and Fantastic Heroes & Witchery (to smooth out the rough edges)
Setting: Dark Albion
Adventures:
A3 Wicked Cauldron (C&C)
B7 - Rahasia (Basic D&D)
Fane of the Witch King (3.0/d20)
Night of the Spirits (C&C)
No Salvation for Witches (LotFP)
Saga of the Witch Queen (DCC)
The Dancing Hut of Baba Yaga (AD&D_2e)
The Ruins of Ramat (S&W)
The Stealer of Children (LL)
The Witch Queen's Revenge (Pathfinder)
The Witchwar Legacy (Pathfinder)
The Manor Issue 6 (OSR)
Witch of the Tarriswoods (OSR)
Witches Court Marshes (AD&D_ish)

I might thin this list a bit since I am only dealing with levels 1-13 or so.

RPG a Day 2015, Day 27

Day 27: Favorite idea for merging two games into one

I have had a few to be honest.  In fact they get their own label here, Plays Well With Others.

My favorite though is "Black Rose", my mixing of Blue Rose with Ravenloft.

Here are some of the posts from back then.


It was a lot of fun.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Class Struggles: The Occultist & Skylla

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery has crazy number of classes. There were  so many to choose from and this is even given the fact that there is no "cleric" class to speak of.    I wanted to address this and talk about the Wiseman/Wisewoman and maybe I still will, later down the road.  But today I want to focus on the Occultist.

The Occultist is a magic-using character that ends up having a lot of dealings with various fiendish creatures.  The class is one of the "Weird Tales" era classes presented in the book, but there is no reason it could not be used with other dungeon crawling types of classes.  It is not the strongest character on the block and it's spell selection and use is a little limited, but it has some nice features.

To begin with the Occultist will be the undeniable expert on anything fiendish.  Demons, Devils, whatever your world has, they will know about it.  They can add their level to any skill check involving demonic/fiendish lore.  This applies to any skill. The example given are survival checks when crossing a hellish-plane or a charisma check when dealing with demons.  Not too shabby really.
At third level then even get secret knowledge of the demon slayers to aid them.
As the occultist gets higher levels they can even banish a demonic creature al together. Much like a cleric turning undead.

But all of this comes at a price.  The occultist is tainted by corruption.   The abyss staring back at you.
As they earn higher levels they have to make a Wisdom save vs. corruption or move closer and closer to chaos.  A nice idea really.

Occultists learn spells from books or other occultists.  But unlike wizards they do not have a number of spells per level they know, but rather a total number of spells and the highest level they can learn.  So a 7th level Occultist knows 7 spells and the maximum spell level of 4th.  Of those seven spells all can be 1st level or some other mix. It depends what the occultist can find in their travels.
Personally I would modify that up based on Intelligence, but that is me. The Occultist uses "Black Magic" spells, but I wonder if starting occultists could get away with using Grey magic too.  At least until they fail more saves and become chaotic.

In many ways this spell casting system is the same as what you see in the Witch from The Complete B/X Adventurer.  There are in fact many similarities in tone and the manner in which they get spells.  I can see some overlap in these classes.


Which gives me an idea.

Skylla, 7th Level Occultist

Strength: 9
Dexterity: 11
Constitution: 10
Intelligence: 12
Wisdom: 14
Charisma: 13

Hit Points:  20 (d4)
Alignment: Chaotic
AC: 4 (Ring of Protection +1)

Special Abilities
1st: Dark Lore (+7 to fiend-based/related skill checks)
3rd: Secret knowledge of demonslayers
6th: banish fiend 1/day

Spells
Maximum Spell Level: 3rd
Number of Spells known: 6
1st Level: Read Magic, Cause Fear, Chill Touch, Find Familar
2nd Level: Black Lightning
3rd Level:  Bestow Curse

Not bad, I only gave her the minimum spells, but she would likely have more secreted away in a tome for later learning.

Monstrous Manual for 2e

The Monstrous Manual for 2e is now out.


DMG is out next week!

RPG a Day 2015, Day 26

Day 26: Favorite Inspiration for Your Game

I have said it before, but I am heavily influenced by music.  What ever album, CD or playlist I am listening to has the next adventure idea for me.

Also I have been undoing influenced by Hammer Horror, B-grade horror movies, 70 Euro-trash horror and 80s slasher flicks.



Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review and PWWO: Dark Albion: The Rose War

War is always a good backdrop to a fantasy campaign.  There is so much chaos and change and opportunity that a group of adventurers could make their way from nobodies to national heroes..or villains.  That is one of the basic conceits of +Kasimir Urbanski's aka RPGPundit's latest book Dark Albion: The Rose War. Published by DOM Publishing, the same that gave us Fantastic Heroes & Witchery. Overtly the book is for FH&W, but it can be played with any Retro-Clone or original D&D game you wish.  In fact I am going to jump ahead and say that it would work with any version of D&D you choose, including 5th Edition. But for me the game seems like it would shine under Original Edition.  But more on that later.

I am reviewing the PDF only at this point. I don't have a copy of the printed book yet.  The PDF is 277 pages; 275 of content plus cover and a hyperlink page that we also saw in FH&W. It's a nice touch.

Before I get into the meat I want to about the art and layout.  The art is predominantly woodcuts and public domain images from the period or about the period.  I want to say that for the record I LOVE this sort of art.  I really do. It captures the feel of time I think far better than most RPG art.  I love the art in the D&D/OSR books, but that is art for a game world.  For a historical one I want this.
Also the graphic design and layout is much improved in terms of technique from FH&W.  This is obvious when in the FH&W appendix it switches back to the other style. It is the same as the previous book, but still better executed.

The book is nicely organized and I am first grabbed by a sense of nostalgia. This feels like an old-school Gazetteer.  In particular the Greyhawk ones of old.  We have a two page Table of Contents and a two page index.  Both are hyperlinked.

The center of the campaign is the War of Roses. This war, between rival claimants to the throne of England, the House of York (the White Rose) and the House of Lancaster (the Red Rose). This lead, among other things, to the creation of the Tudor Dynasty (White on Red Rose) when the House of Lancaster defeated the House the York and Henry Tudor married Elizabeth York to become Henry VII of England.  This is also the milestone between what was "Dark Ages" England and the English Renaissance.  Though I personally think of the date as being later when England broke with the Church or even later still when Elizabeth I came into power.  But that is my personal bias.
(Side Note: See if RPGPundit is working on "Dark Albion: The Tudors", now there is some intrigue!)

The Introduction is a brief overview of the book, the War of Roses, and what to expect in this campaign book.  Most of what is here is detailed more in the book, but a couple of things draw our attention.  First this a "gritty" campaign.  So magic is low, character classes will be low and it is human centric.   Other differences between this and other "D&D" are given, such as very, very few demi-humans and few "monsters".  Also the differences between this world and our world are given.  The one that stands out here is the Church of the Unconquered Sun, something that readers of my blog should already be familiar with, http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2015/02/sol-invictus-unconquered-sun.html. In fact this Church is like one where Rome (Arcadia) adopted Mithra instead of Jesus.  It is an interesting idea and one I would love to see more of.

Next up, and what takes up a good chunk of the book is the Gazetteer of Albion.  For his alt-history version of England, Pundit sticks with the very archaic Albion as opposed to England or even "Angle-land".  I do not object. I used the name myself in Ghosts of Albion, though for different reasons.  This is part socio-political overview, part maps and part campaign information.   Having gone over the same territory, though 360 years later, I appreciate the attention to detail here.  The bulk of this is of course on Albion and Wales (not "Cymru"?), lands up into Scots-land ("Alba"?) only go to Hadrian's Wall, which is still intact in this world.  Lands into Ireland ("Erie"! thank you!) only go to the Pale, as appropriate.  Beyond the Pale?  Well that is where the ancient Brannans live, you don't want to go there.
Honestly, this could have been the entire book and I would have loved it.  Give me old maps and names of people and I will fill it up with ideas.  I already want to create characters and give them histories.

Next up is Kingdoms of the Continent. As you can imagine, an overview of Europe. Not as in-depth as the Albion chapter, nor should it be. There are a couple things though I want to point out.
1. Frogland. Really?  ugh. Ok, ok. I get the desire to have a non-human, chaos-based kingdom. But I really have to admit this sticks out like a sore thumb. It's really just not good. Sorry. I just don't like it, it seems to go against everything we just read about human-centric, low magic, gritty-realism.  If I were to use this in a game (and I really would want to) Frogland is going away.  I'll replace it with a Clark Ashton Smith-style Averoigne.  It really kind of mars the entire work in a way.
2. Arcadia. There is something REALLY interesting here.  I would love to see RPGPundit talk about how The Unconquered Sun grew up out Mithraism to replace Christianity in his world.  Plus this is the Renaissance.  I would imagine that Arcadia at this time in this world looks a bit more like Mage the Sorcerers Crusade than it does D&D.
3. Wallachia.  Ok, including a bad ass Dracula almost (almost but not quite) makes up for Frogland.  Having him live in a castle named "Crows Loft" is very cheeky ("Crow's Nest" might be closer, but hey, not my book).

Law & Justice in Albion is a fairly important chapter. Characters will not be able to act like the "murder-hobos" of other games. Albion, at this point, has been around as country of laws for some time.  The Magna Carta has been around for 200+ years at this point so this is not a lawless land, far from it in fact.   Frankly more campaign guides should have this as much as they do maps and people of interest.

History of Albion is just as fascinating as the Gazetteer. While I personally believe that games are about the characters, having a detailed backdrop is always nice.  Plus if your game is going to more about court intrigue and combats of words and lies rather than adventuring, then this is a must read.

Characters in Albion discuss what has been mentioned briefly already.  What characters you are likely to use in this game.  It is human centric and low magic.  Now there is an interesting twist here in that the Church of the Unconquered Sun has Priests, which are like real-world priests in the Catholic church, and Clerics which are more like D&D clerics.  In fact you can have a female cleric.  This is a handy way to have your cake and eat it too.  The reading of this chapter makes me think that Lamentation of the Flame Princes might be a good rule fit for this, but as I read more I think that Original D&D is the best choice.  Though given the changes to the world in general I would also add druids and witches to my games.

Currency & Equipment is actually quite an important chapter.  Money didn't just seperate the wealthy from everyone else, it also separates the classes, as in the upper and lower class.  In many D&D games characters tend to throw around gold like it was water.  You see that even in some of the pulp influences of D&D.  Historically though and even until past the Victorian age you would not find people throwing around a gold coin.  Copper pence/pennies were the coinage of the common man.  Maybe a silver shilling. Ok, technically the silver shilling wasn't minted until the 1500s and it was worth 12 pence (not the 10p listed). BUT this is just a change to make things easier for the game and that is fine with me.  I would still introduce a gold guinea at 21s/0p though it's introduction is still not for another 200 years or so.  I just like the idea.

The next two chapters, Noble Houses of Albion and People of Interest, deal with the people that populate this world.  I would say that if you are playing a court intrigue game then these are your important chapters.  Knowing who is controlling what and what their moves might be is a great aid for the right-minded GM.  I would say that if you are or were a fan of Pendragon or even Birthright then study these two chapters.  Heck given how Pendragon works this could be part of the same set of PCs, only their dynasties 35-40+ generations later.
Ok, so I am not taking any stars away from the overall product for this, but I will state my disappointment in the whole "Frogmen" one more time here. Craaak VII? Lraaap XI?  Come on Pundit, you can do better than this.

Sorcery and Secrets is the chapter I have been waiting for.  I will point out one discrepancy between what is said here and what is assumed.  Magic-user spells are listed to 9th level, ok that will take a pretty high level magic-user, beyond the "7th level will be really high" mentioned. Plus 9th level spells are pretty big magics.  Personally I would limit all spell casters to 6th level spells.  There are some rules in FH&W to help get around this restriction.
There are some really good demon summoning rules. I would combine these with the magic circle rules given in FH&W as well as the Ley Line rules.  In fact in might be interesting to take this chapter and Chapter 9 from FH&W and look at them as a unified whole.

Adventuring in Albion. Ok this is more like it!  Give me reasons for my characters to do things!  For me I am content with "there is a war of succession to English throne going on. You all are peasants. Figure out how make the most of it."  Thankfully there is more here than just that. Several sample adventure locations are given, including one at court.  Travel across Albion is discussed though characters are more likely to run into tolls rather than trolls, but both are still possible.
While monsters are rare in this setting a guideline for what might be possible would be good.

Three Appendices follow.
Appendix 1 detail the Knights of the Star and Secrets of the Clerical Order. Knight of the Star are an order of Knights loyal to the crown and king of Albion. These Knights could be seen as the Paladins of Albion and are given similar in-game status.
Appendix 2 is a set of house rules for rules-lite OSR clones like Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Swords & Wizardry, and Basic Fantasy RPG.
Appendix 3 is a set of rules when playing Fantastic Heroes & Witchery.  Like I mentioned before this appendix drops the Dark Albion style for the FH&W one.  Various new classes for FH&W are added including the Cleric of the Unconquered Sun, the Magister, Hedge-Witch and Cymric Bard among others.  Also classes from FH&W are discussed including which ones NOT to use in Dark Albion.  Some details about how Dark Albion's cosmology fits into the FH&W assumed cosmology.

The book ends with the OGL statement.

There is a lot crammed into 275 or so pages. While the guide is complete and there is plenty to do with it, it also opens up a lot of possibility for the world as a whole.  Dom and RPGPundit could make a career out filling up the other countries.  The time period is an interesting choice too.  Having played a ton of historical games I tend to draw a fuzzy line right around the time of the Tudors. Prior to this time I can emulate with D&D-like games, after that I use other games.  Dark Albion adheres to my own internal logic in this respect.  Though I do admit I can see myself pushing that line a bit when it comes to Elizabethan times.  I have done that time period both as a D&D-like game and as a setting for Ghosts of Albion.

I would say pick this up if you have any enjoyment for English history or if you are looking to play something different than the same old dungeon crawls.

Plays Well With Others
By virtue of it's compatibility with Fantastic Heroes & Witchery, Dark Albion has an easier time than most supplements.  Added to fact that it is presented largely rule free is a bonus.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea has been one of my favorite systems/campaign worlds since it came out. It shares a number of elements in common with Dark Albion.  First, both worlds assume a low magic, human centric world.  There are a LOT of character classes in AS&SH and not all are appropriate for Dark Albion, but there are plenty that are even above and beyond the multitude of class options that FH&W offers.    The worlds of both games are by and large the same, just separated by vast quantities (and maybe qualities) of time.  While Dark Albion focuses on Albion and parts south, AS&SH tends to focus more to the north.  Who is to say that there are not some areas of Norway that are not still like the Hyperborea of AS&SH?
Plus the power levels of both games is the same.  All characters in AS&SH and FH&W top off at that 12-14 level limit.  This naturally keeps the magic down.
AS&SH also has a number of monsters in it that would be appropriate for the Dark Albion world.  Now, AS&SH does have "Cthulhoid" monsters which would take the implied chaos of Dark Albion to a totally different level. But I can see that working.

As mentioned before another game that would mesh well with this is Lamentation of the Flame Princes.  There is a congruity to both worlds that makes the translation not only possible, but anticipated as seen in Appendix 2.

I have to admit I picked this game up not on the reputation of it's author or even publisher, but because I really wanted to see if there is anything in this book I could use with my own Ghosts of Albion.  While the two games share a number of parallels due to subject matter and connections to the real world, the underlying assumptions of both games are very different. Back when I was working on Ghosts of Albion one of my characters was a ghost of a fighter in the War of the Roses.  I guess I could now play him as a living breathing human if I wanted too.  I just have to make sure he dies while defending the King from that dastard the Duke of York!   Dark Albion actually has more in common with Cubicle 7's Victoriana. At least in terms of setting and underlying assumptions. Heck maybe when Albion splits from the Church of the Unconquered Sun (Dark Albion) it becomes the Aluminat Church (Victoriana).   In any case Dark Albion provides an interesting historical backdrop to either of those games.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention The Witch.  Dark Albion makes many references to witches and dark magic but the only game mentioned that has a proper witch is FH&W and even then that game mentions conversions for my witch.  Just follow the guidelines already in FH&W.

One thing is certain, I am going to have to play some more with this world.
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