Saturday, February 28, 2015

Kingmaker: Rivers Run Red


Despite the fact that there are now some odd four players who own the Ultimate Campaign expansion book from Paizo, and assurances after assurances that they would 'blue book' the king building experience so that they could continue onto the 'adventure proper', such an event did not occur.

Rather the first hour or so of game time was taken up with the claiming of hexes and preparation of farm land for the new kingdom. It went fairly smooth but the players who weren't interest in that aspect of the game were less than enthused.

The players then decided to clear out a nearby barrow mound and killed what used to be a wight, that I subbed for a wraith.  The sword they got though was a nice +2 fey bane. I quickly ruled that it required the use attune it and and did an extra 2d6 versus fey creatures.

They also managed to hunt down the hodag, a monster that I gave a fairly high armor class and lots of attacks, but no real 'quirks' to it. Almost like a little juggernaut but I have a full five man outfit here so they made short work of the creature.

Then the party went off to explore some old elf ruins currently inhabited by... you guessed it, evil fey. Due to some inter party conflict between how the players do things, the party wound up almost being apologetic to the 'Dancing Lady", the local evil fey that had unofficial servants that tended to kill annoying adventurers.

With the fey bane sword, the party made quick work of those servants but... One of the players has that lustful disadvantage and made the moves on the lady while the rest of the party left. She did her dance and charmed him. Being alone with a blood drinking fey was not good for said character but the party did manage to overcome the creature in the end although this particular fey grants a 'dying' curse.

The party then went to a larger city as their own didn't have a higher enough level priest, to get a few things fixed and removed. So now the party has agreed to a few quests for this NPC. I may just use that as the launching point for the next adventure as it's a quick plug into the "why does the party care about this other area".

I'm also thinking that while the party is out of their region I'm going to have a group of NPCs tackle the lizard men. The lizard men are relatively low level fodder for the party at this time unless I do a lot of conversions and well, I am a lazy bastard. It'll help to get things ready for book 3 of the 6 part series and free up the party to do some more exploring. Think I'll grab the old Paizo group directly from the NPC Guide as they are a group of wandering adventurers.

Anyone have any good resources on converting monsters from 3rd edition to 5th? The 5th edition Dungeon Master's Guide has a good section on making monsters but if there's a quicker way, I'm all ears.



Sunday, February 22, 2015

Spartacus: Character Study Lucretia


Having recently just finished watching Spartacus on Netflix, I thought I'd take a look at another villain of the series. This time, Lucretia.

How you view Lucretia may depend on how you watched the original series. If you watched it as aired for example, you might have a different mind then if you watched it in chronological order.

Lucretia is the wife of Quintus Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Batiatus. She brings no dowry, no name and nothing outside of her own cunning and ambition to the marriage. This is something that Quintus' father notes many times, even trying to get Qunitus to dissolve the marriage.

But perhaps 'beloved' father had reason to? Quintus has dreams far beyond being a mere gladiator owner. Far beyond providing blood and spectacle to the crowds. And his father doesn't approve.

Lucretia on the other hand, does. She helps Quintus wherever she can including doing things that may be beyond the standard of such services that a gladiator house may offer. 

Her initial motivation in taking 'the Undefeated Gaul' to her chambers are to get pregnant so that she may provide her husband Quintus a son. As the chronology advances, it becomes obvious that it evolves far past that and into a strange sort of lust/love/ownership issue. That she, a woman, has this thing with Crixus that is hers and hers alone. Something that she is willing to do much to keep.

This includes changing some of her services that she normally provides to others with the gladiators as sex slaves and does so in a manner that brings shock to all parties involved. See one of Lucretia's friends and allies is a bit of a cruel mistress herself, always looking down on Lucretia and her way of life, but enjoying it as 'scandalous' in its own way.

When said friend seeks the company of Crixus as sex slave, Lucretia instead substitutes Spartacus, a man that the friend has many reasons to hate. It works out well in Lucretia's favor as she then has sufficient blackmail material over friend.

Like any, when she feels wronged, she seeks her own brand of vengeance. When Crixus takes a lover of his own, Lucretia's own 'virgin' slave, it wrongs her on many levels. On one level, Lucretia is a proud woman. It hurts her to think that her slave would want anyone outside of her. On another, Crixus, despite status as gladiator, is still a slave, still property and this betrayal is one of defiance. On another, at this point, Quintus has already told her that he knows about it and allowed it because it made her happy.

With those elements in place, Lucretia works to have Crixus killed by Spartacus in an exhibition match by poisoning the Gaul.

After the Spartacus uprising and so many are left dead or left for dead, Lucretia survives but is a pale shadow of her former self. Her possessions are gone from her. Her husband is dead. Her lover is dead. She is taken against her will over and over by a former slave.

And yet she still possesses keen mind and is able to take advantage of a rapidly changing order. She manages to use her surviving status to appear as a oracle, a bridge between man and god. She stays close to her good 'friend' and eventually has the last laugh on her.

A former shadow that kills.

In looking at Lucretia's nature I'd peg her with some of the following attributes:

Loyalty: 

This may seem a strange one. She has her own lover outside of her husband but... With her husband, she seeks to further said husband's ambitions. This includes killing her husband's father with poison and making it appear to be a rival of said husband in order to further her husband's own schemes as she knows without a doubt that husband will strike back at false slight.

For Crixus, she works tirelessly to keep him at the top of the pecking order. 

For her old friend who is murdered, she works to avenge her.

Adaptable:

Her husband's fortunes wax and wane and Lucretia manages to take advantage of one and weather through the other. She forges alliances with those who think themselves her better and when her own status is completely destroyed in the rebellion, is able to reinvent herself as oracle and seer.

When she sees the nature of lust and decadence that some of the better placed Romans has, she is willing to indulge that whim at personal cost to the honor of her own slaves, which results in many secrets being kept in the house afterwards.

Despite her complete inability to fight, despite her standing as a woman in a society that does not value them, Lucretia navigate the world in both its highs and lows and is an interesting character study.




Saturday, February 21, 2015

Kingmaker: Rivers Run Red Session Two

I am continuing to enjoy Kingmaker.

Rivers Run Red continues a bit of the wilderness exploration, continuing in the same region as the first book.

This allows the players a home base of operations and a sense of what the River Kingdoms are like. I've tended to play it more 'southern' and 'country' in that the folk tend to speak simple and direct and while most are honest to a fault, there are those whose enjoyment of solitude turns them away from the intruders that the players represent.

Several players have decided to dedicate some effort to the running of the kingdom but have still yet to decide how best to advance. That's okay as outside of 'kingdom management' there are still numerous areas to explore, quests to complete and monsters to slay.

In many ways, these first two books of Kingmaker cleave close to how I often ran in the past. Some encounters with various NPCs to learn the lay of the land, what news from which country, the creation of rivalries and ending of such.

In this case, that would be Akiros Ismort, formerly of the Stag Lord, who turned his efforts to procuring the character's patronage. He wished to be awarded rank and title general but was not awarded such so he continues to toss jibes at the current general and who knows what that former bandit leader does when the players are not there?


After such meetings though, the players sharpen blades and onto slaughter! Just hopefully not their own.

One of my friends joked it was a PC version of Spartacus. "Yeah, we get together, find out some stuff, party a bit in the town, and then unsheath blade and spell and let monster burn or bleed!"

It brings me to worry about what happens when the campaign elements in the background take more center tone. The 'strength' for me is that despite my appreciation of mega-dungeons and dungeon crawls in general, the open nature of exploration, the small locations, such as an outpost or a barrow mound, allow for the illusion of some type of crawl that are more like connected encounters as opposed to say, The World's Largest Dungeon or a standard Dungeon Crawl where whole sessions can pass in dark passages.

This allows me to change things up a bit more quickly and change tone or goal between expeditions whereas a full out dungeon crawl merely requires eager foot to step into waiting maw.

I also find myself doing a lot of on the fly conversions. While I've shared my attempts at bringing the troll hounds and hodag to life, there were many more that needed such a touch that I failed to do.

For example, the classic two headed troll or the not quite as classic, stone troll. Or a troll with a few fighter levels on him. I looked at the ettin and snagged its base damage and gave higher point point totals to it, while giving the stone troll higher armor class and hit points and no bite attack. The 'king' with the fighter levels i just increased his hit point total to reflect him being 'tough'.

This is a 'problem' with using older adventures on a system that has almost as many years of history as I've been alive. The sheer variety of opposition is enough to make head swim if plans are not taken far ahead of time or if you're not comfortable doing some conversion work on the fly.

What's worse is there is no 'easy' solution for this problem. While I haven't reviewed the Monster Manual in it's latest version, I have not found one of its weaknesses to be a lack of variety.  Again, it's the history of the game providing such richness and capturing so many classic monsters including modrons, that prevent every monster possible from being updated.

It may sound strange, but as I'm of firm mind that 5th edition is the last print edition of Dungeons and Dragons we'll see, I would hope that at some point they'll do an Encyclopedia of sorts of the monsters. When 2nd edition was long in tooth, there came compendiums of wizard spells, priest spells, and my favorite, magic items in faux leather. Great stuff that I still draw inspiration from today. Very handy.

If 5th edition is the last print edition, I'd dearly love to see such a collection of monsters. If WoTC intention is to provide tools and get out of the way, monsters are such tools that I would enjoy.

Failing that, some form of license? Some form of official conversion material to take older monsters from one edition to another?

But in terms of the adventure itself? It continues well. The players managed to overcome the trolls without retreat although they had used up almost every healing potion that they'd hoarded both from previous adventure and the Mines bit that I included. They also used up a Necklace of Fireballs that they had found earlier. I was pleased to see the item in use as it lends some firepower to the ground in short term form.

Giving characters such temporary ammunition tends to be one of the 'tricks' of allowing potential TPK's to hit as the party may feel cocksure enough to fight things that may be outside their ability.

Still, the group seemed to enjoy themselves so...

How are your own adventures going? Has your group experienced any TPK's? Any switches of character in mid stream to test out different character mechanics? Any weird magic items or monsters that you're Dungeon Master has thrown into the mix?




Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Spartacus: Character Study: Ashur

I've been watching Spartacus on Netflix.

I consider it a guilty pleasure.

One of the things I thought interesting, was how the different relationships and the different characters play off of one another on numerous levels.

Let's look at one of the 'bad' guys, Ashur.

Ashur is an Assyrian brought in with another Assyrian, Dagan. Of the two, Dagan is the superior warrior, but Ashur has value in that Dagan doesn't speak the local tongue and Ashur does. This allows Ashur some measure of diplomacy between Dagan and others.

Initially Ashur seems eager to honestly be a part of the 'Brotherhood' where the Gladiators respect one another.

Problem is that he doesn't earn it the way the other gladiators earn theirs.

See Ashur and others follow their master, loyaly, and do things that Gladiators aren't normally a part of. Something evil and sly, assassination for their lord and master.

The reward? The brand of the gladiator and the scorn of those gladiators at the same time.

Ashur's use in translations continues to be useful but at the same time, because Dagan is the superior combatant, Ashur, who wasn't accepted in the first place, continues to fall further and further behind in estimation. This causes Ashur to make some decisions that don't please Dagan.

Things continue to go south when in a duel, Ashur 'cheats' and winds up blinding Dagan in one eye.

It goes further south when later, in a duel against another house's gladiators, Ashur suggests an alliance between himself and Crixus against the champion of their own house. Crixus responds by slashing Ashur's leg and pushing him into flames resulting in Ashur's status becoming even lower.

But somewhere during that low period, Ashur puts to use his wits and takes bets and controls money. He also spies for his lord while in the city and spreads disinformation and fakes alliances with those who seek to bring his house down.

At one point, his owner values him so much that he declares that Ashur is no mere gladiator but almost like one of his lord's hands.

Of course things come crumbling down with the whole Spartacus rebellion thing mind you...

But Ashur survives that as well! Using cunning, he escapes his fate by hiding among the dead and even helping another survive the fall of the house.

And in so doing, is rewarded with a new master who demands Ashur remove his old brand. Never mind that this requires cutting off a nice chunk of skin with that brand and takes forever to heal. It also requires Ashur to prove his point that one gladiator is worth three soldiers when he is forced to fight for his live against soldiers, but while winning, wisely holds back from killing those he fights.

His street connections enables him to gather a crew of unique mercenaries and to be a valuable asset but all is set to waste for poor Ashur when he is accused of a crime he didn't actually commit and he winds up proving his loyalty one last time taking a message to Spartacus where his overconfidence in battle leads to him being slain.

Interestingly enough, while the series Spartacus doesn't delve too deeply into racial relations, the fact that Ashur was Assyrian is enough to poison the thoughts of the slaves when they encounter another Assyrian later on. It's a subtle dig at how racism, either between Gaul and Thracian, or between Celt and Gault, is portrayed in the series.

In looking at his motivations overall, I would throw the following on him.

Petty Ambitions: While there are some in the Spartacus series that have grand overpowering ambitions, Ashur's are much simpler. An easy life, wine, food, women, and whatever else it takes to survive.

Respect: Perhaps even his number one ambition. Ashur seeks to be champion, even when he knows not capable of it. He seeks to return to the arena and win respect, even disappointed as his master tells him that he's far too valuable for such a position.

Vengeful: Much of what Ashur does that is vile, including his treatment of Naevia, is in part a result of the way others have treated him. Most think that because Ashur is the least physical among them in terms of fighting prowess alone, that he is not worthy of consideration only to learn later on that he is a master manipulator.

Loyal: While I list it last, it's important to note that Ashur had opportunity to escape his circumstances on more than one occasion and made the decision to stick with his master at the time, even thought in the end, this results in his death.

By making Ashur more than just a mustache twirling villain, the writers of Spartacus give us a character whose motivations may be easy to see, but there are motivations nonetheless.

Were there any characters that stood out for other views of Spartacus? Any villains where you were like, "Man, I can't wait to see this guy get his!" or surprised at how they went?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Kingmaker: Rivers Run Red by Rob McCreary


Rivers Run Red is the second part of the Kingmaker Adventure Path. While it's designed for the Pathfinder role playing game, I've been using it for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition.

I mixed the original starter set adventure, the Mines, with the first part of the Kingmaker Adventure Path. This worked well in most aspects in that I substituted a few bits like Harpers in the original book for Pathfinders and the city from the starter adventure with Pitax from Pathfinder. A few other changes here and there.

The bad thing is that the characters are all roughly fifth level, which puts them at a slightly advantage in this portion of the adventure. Another part thing is that I'm running seven players.

This part of the adventure also relies on the player's doing their own kingdom building. On one hand, it's an interesting concept. I was going to use the rules from the Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign but... Only one player is doing the actual kingdom building, determining the buildings and other bits that happen. I've been trying to blue book it so that it minimally impacts actual game play since only one player actual has the book and most of the players have expressed no interest in reading the rules or taking a more active part in that aspect of the game.

Mind you, just under half of the players are interested in that aspect of the campaign to speak of, so I suspect it'll just get dropped. That will upset some who are interested in it, but since their not willing to actually put the work into it, their disappointment will be like sugar on corn flakes.

I've also been doing, for the most part, on the fly conversions. I've been doing it by eyeballing it. For the most part the players haven't suffered too much. I've probably been going 'easy' on the players as opposed to going for the dreaded TPK.

I may also finally be getting around to using inspiration right. I awarded it twice in the game. Huzzah! Finally getting that mechanic aspect down.

Below is one I actually did some of the math on but I'd be open to hear any changes.

Trollhound

Beast, unaligned
Armor Class 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points 32 (5d8+10)
Speed 40 ft.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
18 (+4) 13 (+1) 15 (+2) 2 (-4) 11 (+0) 6 (-2)
Saving Throws Int -4, Wis +0
Skills Perception +2, 
Senses Darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, , 
Passive Perception 12
Languages _
Challenge 3 (700 XP)
Keen Smell. The trollhound has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell

Regeneration: The trollhound regains 5 hit points at the start of its turn. If the trollhound takes acid or fire damage, this trait doesn’t function at the start of the trollhound’s next turn.

ACTIONS
Weapon. Bite +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d6+4),piercing damage., Disease A trollhound’s saliva is an infectious brew of contagion. Creatures bitten bya trollhound are often afflicted with bloodfire fever, a disease characterized by deep internal pain, as if the victim’s blood were on fire. Its symptoms include loss of muscular coordination and physical strength as well as lethargy and fatigue. Constituion Save DC 14; Target is exhausted. At the end of each long rest, an infected creature can make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw. On two successful saves the disease is overcome. If the user fails he takes another level of exhaustion.


I enjoy the adventure path, at least the first two books so far, because it's very open in allowing the players to do what they want. They have opportunity to explore, to hunt down monsters, to work with numerous NPCs and a lot of other bits that are not necessarily the normal standard for dungeon crawls. Mind you that's not always what the players are looking for as one of the players has expressed an interest in doing the Emerald Spire, which is what I initially was going to run before deciding to use Kingmaker.

Looking forward to next week's game as several of the encounters for it are potential role playing and a few brief dungeon crawls.

What's everyone else doing for adventures? Have you expanded the core one from the Starter Set? Have you used the two hardcovers? Taken older adventurers and converted them? Stuff off the cuff and homebrewed?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Moon and Sixpence by W Somerset Maugham

Have you ever gotten to something from a roundabout way?

On RPG.net, on a thread, "Are there any books of Advice for RPG Players?", user king_kaboom mentioned Stephen King's novel, On Writing. My mom is a huge fan of Stephen King so I raided her library and sure enough, she had a copy of the book.

I quickly devoured it. If you're a writer, a person who wants to write, or just want to read a quick moving first person narration, On Writing should be right up your alley. Highly recommended.

But then, how did I get to Moon and Sixpence?

Stephen King, much like the original Dungeon Master's Guide, has his own 'Appendix N', but his is "And Furthermore, Part II: A Booklist". I've cribbed a few of the books for my next trip to Half-Price Books and looked on Amazon.

One of the books was a free version, Moon and Sixpence.

It's an well written first person tale of art and obsession. The title of the book comes from a saying that goes something like if you look at the moon too long, you'll miss the sixpence at your feet, with the opposite, if you look at the sixpence at your feet, you'll miss the moon. It's not necessarily up everyone's alley, but W Somerset Maugham does a great job and its a very readable novel.

The obsession that Charles Strickland has for art, pushes him to leave his wife, to neglect his health, to neglect his housing, to neglect the woman who seeks to fill a void in his heart.

Charles methodology is an interesting look at how motivation can influence a character. Is your character willing to leave his home behind? Is he willing to leave his family behind? Is he willing to leave his country behind? Is he willing to sacrifice his health?

In some games like the Hero system, the level of obsession can be tracked with how high the character has to roll to be inflicted with the disadvantage. The harder the disadvantage is to resist, the more points the character gets for it.

In some older game systems like Dungeons and Dragons, even with the newer edition, the methodology tends to fall more into 'role' playing than roll playing. For example, the old Fighter Handbook had numerous archetypes included Doomed Champion. Such dedication to playing a character of that morbid nature doesn't necessarily require game mechanics to enforce but does require a player who wants to showcase such an obsession.

In other venues, like the manga Berserk, Guts decides to leave his leader, Griffith, behind, so that he can become the greatest swordsman he can be. To test himself. To push himself. Mind you that motivation changes later but the level of obsession does not.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Have you ever gotten to something from a roundabout way?

On RPG.net, on a thread, "Are there any books of Advice for RPG Players?", user king_kaboom mentioned Stephen King's novel, On Writing. My mom is a huge fan of Stephen King so I raided her library and sure enough, she had a copy of the book.

I quickly devoured it. If you're a writer, a person who wants to write, or just want to read a quick moving first person narration, On Writing should be right up your alley. Highly recommended.

But then, how did I get to Oliver Twist?

Stephen King, much like the original Dungeon Master's Guide, has his own 'Appendix N', but his is "And Furthermore, Part II: A Booklist". I've cribbed a few of the books for my next trip to Half-Price Books and looked on Amazon.

One of the books was a free version, Oliver Twist!

This may sound strange, but I can't recall having seeing Oliver Twist much less reading it. I know some of the famous lines like when Oliver is asking for more porridge mind you, but that's probably from culture assimilation from movie commercials as opposed to actually having seen the movie.

It's an interesting reading experience. The terminology is vastly different than the words in common use today. Some of it reflects rather strangely on modern society.

"The oldest inhabitants recollected no period at which measles had been so prevalent, or so fatal to infant existence; and many were the mournful processions which little Oliver headed, in a hat-band reaching down to his knees, to the indescribable admiration and emotion of all the mothers in the town."

"'What do you mean by this?' said Sikes; backing the inquiry with a very common imprecation concerning the most beautiful of human features: which, if it were heard above, only once out of every fifty thousand times that it is uttered below, would render blindness as common a disorder as measles: 'what do you mean by it? "

It's odd to hear how measles in a book published in 1838 is talking about the horrors of a disease that people are fighting against vaccination today. Ugh.

It's a prime example of how things that were life threatening and taken in a far different manner today are dismissed. How the arrogance of 'modern' man allows us such freedom that we think we know better because we haven't had to suffer through the horrors that a disease being so common might bring.

In terms of Oliver Twist? I am for the most part unimpressed. It might be the time it was written. It might be the methodology in which is was written. It might be that I prefer the characters in the books I read to have more agency in their own affairs.

Oliver for much of the book is either laid up sick, shot, or awaiting as he suffers one type of imprisonment over another. That's not the type of character I would hope players would make at my table.

The book might have been better off if it had been called The Tale of Mr. Brownlow or something of that nature. Oliver suffers much misfortune, but on several occasions is saved from the worst aspects of life by strangers who have no reason to take him in. In those aspects it's a feel good story.

But some of the other characters provide more interesting.

For example, the Artful Dodger. He embodies several things that make him stand out as a worthy character. For one, while a child, he dresses in adult clothing that's too large for him. For another, he is 'serious' as an adult. He also has respect for his mentor, Fagin. He also has some friendship with Oliver, although he has no problems abandoning Oliver when necessity calls for it.

As an outside look, the other thing that's interesting about the Artful Dodger, is that he's caught on an almost unrelated incident. It's not that he's caught that's the problem, it's that the world will never know how great the Artful Dodger was as a thief. If the Artful Dodger were to boast of his numerous exploits, it would doom his fellow rogues. Can't have that. The rogues themselves have a good time recalling his many adventures and successes. 

That would be a solid way of characters having to look for information. The rogue they need to know about is dead and apparently wasn't that good of a thief. Those who know where to look for the information though, may find a whole different layer under the 'upper crust' that knows the truth of how valuable a rogue that died was!

Another bit that's probably not used too often in RPGs, is the unintended consequences. One of the characters is a rogue whose main characteristic is his reliance on violence. He quickly learns that there is a bit of difference between being a thief and a murderer as the murderer attracts far more attention and from a far different crowd than just a thief. 

There's also a great deal of locations in the book that could bear some transporting straight to a campaign. One of the things that may strike old friends of the series Thieves World was the 'Maze' where alleys made things treacherous and death lurked around every corner.  Past such structures in London is found Jacob's Island

From Oliver Twist, "... crazy wooden galleries common to the backs of half a dozen houses, with holes from which to look upon the slime beneath; windows, broken and patched, with poles thrust out, on which to dry the linen that is never there; rooms so small, so filthy, so confined, that the air would seem to be too tainted even for the dirt and squalor which they shelter; wooden chambers thrusting themselves out above the mud and threatening to fall into it - as some have done; dirt-besmeared walls and decaying foundations, every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage: all these ornament the banks of Jacob's Island."

If you look at that wiki entry and have no ideas on how to put it into a game system, well, we're looking at things differently. 

When I read something like Oliver Twist, even if it's not full of swordsmen and magicians battling the tides of chaos and other classic chestnuts, it's important to think, "Well, what COULD I use." As often as not, there are many things ranging from a certain feel of the setting being read, to names, to habits and physical descriptions.

When reading, try to keep an open mind as to what may be useful as opposed to what may not be useful.

I can easily see someone using Oliver Twist as the basis for a Thieves World style campaign or breaking out the very OSR book Haven and using it as the basis for a whole different series of rogues.

For those who've read Stephen King's On Writing, are there any other books that you would prioritize in his booklist? For those who've read other older books like Oliver Twist, have you found yourself pondering why or how such a book has survived the test of time?

Leave a comment below!