'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Showing posts with label ICRPG. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ICRPG. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Adventure Wednesday: The d6 Outpost

On the far reaches of the kingdom sits a small fort. Its only purpose is to guard the border and warn of approaching threats from the west. The land is desolate and the soldiers stationed here rely on supplies from the nearest city, some two days hard ride away. This place is isolated and those unlucky enough to be here spend day after day looking out at nothing......

Welcome to Adventure Wednesday! Last week we started Story Seed Tuesday. I decided I should move this to Wednesdays so I could have my efforts to create weekly content more spread out across the week. This is our first Wednesday installment and I already though I would do something a little different. If you like this idea, I will see about including some roll tables with future adventure ideas. As we go forward the blog will end up with a good store house of adventure roll tables to go along with the monsters of Friday's Forgotten Fiends!

Stories about an isolated outpost or ship are common place and work equally well for sci-fi and fantasy. Players can either be stationed there when things start to go wrong, or they could be responding to word of something bad, perhaps the last supply train never returned?

Today I am going to provide a few roll tables that will allow you as the GM to generate a quick plot you can use to build an adventure around. The tables are setting agnostic and should work as well for D&D 5e as they do for The upcoming Expanse RPG by Green Ronin Games.

Step 1: Roll for the outpost type.
1d6 Roll
Result
Goods, Cost Modifier
Number of goods
1
2
3
4
5
6
Guardpost
Gateway
Place of Study
Isolated Community
Trade Outpost
Religious Order
-2, +20%, 3
0, +10%, 2
+2, +10%, 2
0, +20%, 1
0, +10%, 4
0, +20%, 2

Step 2: Make a number of rolls equal to the "Number of Goods" rolled in Step 1. Modify these rolls by the "Goods Modifier".
1d6 Roll +
Goods Modifier
Result
1
2
3
4
5
6
Weapons
Armor
Food
Lodging
Basic Goods
Lore about the Area

Step 3: Determine the environment the outpost exists in. Make sure to note if this is a fantasy or a sci-fi outpost.
1d6 Roll
Location
1
2
3
4
5
6
Edge of Kingdom/Deep Space
Rocky Area/Asteroids
Coast Line/Gas Giant
Forests/Rocky Moon
Deserts/Lagrange Station
Mountains/Class M Planet

Step 4: Determine a basic plot
1d6 Roll
Location
1
2
3
4
5
6
Attacked by Enemy Faction (Military, pirates, etc)
Attacked by Natural Enemy (Wild animals, alien organisms)
Natural Catastrophic Event (Earthquakes, asteroid strikes)
Plague (Disease outbreak, Zombies, Mutations)
Betrayal (Higher up at outpost has sold it out)
Outpost has been taken over in secret (Enemies unknown to the players now control the outpost)

Step 5: How are the players involved?
1d6 Roll
Location
1
2
3
4
5
6
Relief Effort
Stationed at Outpost
Sent to Investigate
Escort to or From Outpost
Evacuation of Outpost
Rescue Mission
Infiltration


Now that we have a few fun tables to roll on, let's generate a few story ideas!
Setting
Type
Goods
Location
What is happening?
How are the characters involved?
Fantasy
Trade Outpost
+20% cost
Weapons, Armor, Lodging, Basic Goods
Edge of the Kingdom
Natural catastrophic event.
Sent to Investigate the cause of the event
Sci-Fi
Religious Order
+0% cost
Basic Goods, Lore about the Area
Asteroid Base
Attacked by a natural enemy
Evacuation
Fantasy
Religious Order
+0% cost
Weapons, Food
Mountains
Attacked by an enemy faction
Members of the order, or hire as guards
Sci-fi
Gateway
+10% cost
Lodging, Lore about Area
Lagrange station
Attacked by an enemy faction
Rescue Mission

There you have it. Four super quick story idea seeds and a set of table to generate a lot more all revolving around an isolated outpost.

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Monday, January 7, 2019

The Search for Clues: How I approached Investigation in Conan 2d20

Introduction

Whenever I write a new adventure for my players I try and include things that are not simply hack and slash. Ways for members less adept at combat to shine and have a great time. I have worked with placing "Trials" into combat situations so the non-combat characters can contribute in a more meaningful way. I like the idea, but often my party tunnel vision's on monsters and villains and won't do anything else until they are vanquished. Generally what I want the trials to do, don't work in this situation.

In my last adventure I wanted the players to start their adventure arriving at an abandoned Asgard village. They would need to investigate the village and figure out what had likely happened and go forward with the adventure from there. Previously i've had things in the adventure that were available for players to find, maybe some ancient script on the wall that would reveal some deeper meaning to the dungeon they were in, add some more COOL to it. Nothing that really *NEEDED* to be found to progress.

With an investigation you want your players to look around and find clues, and then use those clues to draw conclusions about what they should do. If you make this difficult they might not find those clues and end up with no way to progress. What to do!? Well I, like you, went out to the Internet and read a few articles and watched a few videos on running investigative games. What I came up with is the idea that there should be some clues that are going to be found if the players walk into a place and do a cursory examination. These clues are the most basic information the players need to move forward with the plot. Other clues are there and can be found which will add information or a better path for the players.

The Clues

Since running the adventure I have had time to think about this methodology for investigation and might do a larger adventure with it, but until then I will tell you about how I broke down my clues. I felt each clue should have a few basic elements: where it could be found, what skill was used to uncover it, what difficulty it was, what was the result of finding it and what was the result of not finding it.

Finding & Using the Clues

I later decided that all clues should be found with an observation test, and once found a further test could be used to determine something useful from them. This way a player is always rolling against the same skill without the clue being hinted at. This will also allow the keen eyed character to find tracks and the expert tracker to follow them, allowing more non-combat team work for the party. ie A player makes a D1 Observation test to see the tracks, followed by a second D1 Survival test to learn about them. Of course common sense needs to be used, if the clue is a testimony from a dieing man, you probably don't need to find him.

There are times when you will want players to use a certain skill to gain knowledge about the clue, but what if they don't have that skill? Sometimes a secondary skill can be useful. If they found animal tracks, but don't have survival, you may want to allow them to use a skill like Observation, but probably with a higher difficulty.

Setting up the Clues

With this knowledge let's set up the clues following a set of five basic steps.
  1. Crime Scene: Describe what happened. This will give you a good founding of what went on in the scene and why clues are what and where they are. We see this all the time in detective and police shows, but from the other end, where the main characters have found clues and have pieced back together their version of the events that placed them there.
  2. Key Clues: Identify the key clues the players will need to find to lead them to the next phase of the adventure.
  3. Negative Effect Clues: Pick out things from the description that are key and build clues around them that might have negative consequences if not found.
  4. Informational Clues: Pick out further informational clues that have no real long term effect on the adventure.
  5. Red Herrings: Maybe a few clues scattered about to lead the players astray, and make things more difficult.
Step 1: Crime Scene.
Evening falls, and as most nights recently the village is huddled around their central fire pit for comfort and security. Something has been stalking them. Finally they hear a low growl as a giant cat appears on the edge of the fire light, with terror the villagers panic and run. Only the Shaman stands to stop the beast, striding forward he commands it to stop. He is struck down where he stands, as a giant claws tear through his flesh. The cat stalks the people while small dark humanoids chitter with glee as they pull down and bind villagers, the ones they do not capture escape into the cold night. The cat and the children of the night escape out towards the mountains, with the villagers for sacrifice by their Master on the coming Solstice. A light snow beings to fall..

Step 2: Key clues.
We know we need the players to find evidence that will lead them to the mountain. The easiest one is the tracks the cat and the little people leave behind, but with the commotion I think tracks might be harder to find, especially with the snow that had begun to fall. Instead we will see that the villagers have been stalked for sometime. Our first clue will be notes written by the chieftain about sending a party to the mountains and other similar information to make the players believe the mountain is important. We will place this note in the Chieftain's hut.

Clue
Location
Skill & Difficulty
Found
Not Found
Chieftain's Notes Chief's Hut Observ. D0 Notes describe The Chief's council with the village
shaman about omens in the mountains.
A party of warriors investigated and found
ruins of an ancient fortress inhabited by snow apes.
N/A

Players entering the hut and making a basic cursory look into the place will find this clue. It is possible they don't search all the huts and in the end don't find this clue and end up not knowing what to do. As much as I recognize this to be a possibility, I think players who have not found a plot hook and haven't searched all the huts deserve to be stumped a little bit. In short I think they should have to do something to get the clue, even if once that is done there is no dice rolled.

Step 3: Negative Effect Clues.
Now that we have this basic clue let's work from there. We know the cat and little people and villagers would leave tracks. We can make it more interesting by placing this clue in a few areas, maybe in the village where they are hard to find and outside the village where they are easier to find. If the players find this clue we should reward them, maybe give them a safer, faster way to the mountain fortress.

Clue
Location
Skill & Difficulty
Found
Not Found
Animal Tracks Outside the Village Observ. D1 ->
Survival D3
Observ. D5
Tracks of a large animal lead away.
Players use the easy passage through the ruins.
Players use the dangerous passage through the ruins.
Animal Tracks Inside the Village Observ. D1 ->
Survival D1
Observ. D3
Tracks are obscured by other tracks in the village
Tracks of a large animal lead away
Players use the easy passage through the ruins.
Players use the dangerous passage through the ruins.

We had a couple of other things happen in our description. One was the shaman being struck down. Perhaps he managed to drag himself to his hut and as the beast crashed in to finish the job, he managed to ward it off with some spell or alchemy? We can add clues to handle this as well.

Clue
Location
Skill & Difficulty
Found
Not Found
Blood Entrance to Village Observ. D1
Covered in snow
Blood stains in the snow.
Lead to Shaman's Hut
No effect.
Shaman Shaman's hut Auto find ->
Healing D1
Persuade D2
Tells of the battle with the cat &
solstice sacrifice.
Cat doesn't cause FEAR 1 when
the players encounter it.
+1M Gives the players a talisman
to ward off the cat.
On a failed test:
Shaman croaks a single word, "The Mountain."
and dies.
Star Charts Shaman's hut Observ. D1 ->
Lore D1
Observation D3
Shows how far away the solstice is.
Solstice is one day closer than previously determined.

Now we have three clues associated with the Shaman, one simply leads the players to him, and the others provide information and perhaps a little bit of advantage if the investigation here goes very well. I haven't included basic things such as claw marks on the body or the damage on the hut, but things like this should be improvised pretty easily based on your knowledge of what happened here.

Step 4: Informational Clues.
We also know there was struggles and villagers being bound and taken against their will. Players will probably make this assumption, especially based on other clues, but you can sprinkle a few things around the village to given them a deeper investigation.

Clue
Location
Skill & Difficulty
Found
Not Found
Bindings Next to one of the huts Observ. D1
Covered in snow
Iron shackles with arcane
glyphs.
No Effect
Small footprints Around village Observ. D3 -> Survival D2 One of the Children of the Night
erupts from the snow and attacks.
No Effect

Step 5: Red Herrings.
We know villagers ran off into the night from our look at the crime scene. We know not all were taken by the wizard. What happened to them?
Clue
Location
Skill & Difficulty
Found
Not Found
Blood West of the Village Observ. D1 ->
Observ. D2
Survival D1
Covered in snow
Blood stain leading southwest.
See BEAR ENCOUNTER if followed
No Effect

With a fairly simple crime scene description we are able to come up with 9 clues of varying merit, and at least one that will lead the characters the right direction. Hopefully this will give you some inspiration on ways to add clues and investigation into your own game. If you do I would love to hear how it worked out! Of course if you have other ideas or comments on this methodology please drop me a comment below.


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Monday, December 10, 2018

NPCs: A Codified Approach to the Man on the Street.

In a general session of play, you as GM may have a series of NPCs that you are aware of. A cast of characters you expect your players to interact with. You have an idea about them and how the interaction will go. You have at least some idea of how the social encounter will work. This article is generally not about those cases, although it may act as a guide to flesh those characters out if you generally haven't and have trouble figuring out how you want to role play them.

This is an approach to NPCs that will hopefully help you have better social interactions between your players and the cast of characters that populate your world. Not just the few have prepared in advance but everyone the PCs encounter. They are, after all, representing people with their own lives and aspirations, even if the PCs only encounter them during a single session. I am going to present a basic framework to help you give your NPCs more life, more direction, which in turn will allow you as the GM to role play them better.

It's easy to want to boil these encounters down to a single roll of the die or an opposed test and go from there, and I won't tell you this doesn't have it's place. Instead this framework will allow you to use these rolls and give these NPCs desires to resist, or be difficult. Should the random guy on the street be as willing to help as someone the PCs have known, will bribing them be a way to get more information? I believe that simply boiling the encounter to a simple set of dice rolls is short changing a potentially rich encounter that may lead down different paths. Maybe that dancer they just tried to get information from is actually in cahoots with the villian and is laying a trap for the PCs? The possibilities!

The Framework

I see us needing to have a few known things to really flesh out the NPCs: What do they want? What is their disposition towards the players and what motivates the them? Certainly you can answer more questions about them, but I think knowing these three simple things will allow you to really add some realism to these people.

The Disposition of the NPC

If we accept the NPCs disposition is separate from their personality or charisma, then we must define it. Mechanically I see a scale, in the middle I see someone who is neutral, who just doesn't care. They might help. They might not. For this I think a simple social test at a basic difficulty is a fine way to determine if the NPC will be somewhat helpful or disinterested. I don't see this as an outward showing by the NPC towards the players, simply a concept of how easily they can be swayed.

As we move away from the middle of the scale we get the two basic dispositions you might encounter: positive and negative. One end of the scale is an NPC who thinks of the PCs as good friends and is willing to help them, go out of the way for them, maybe even endanger themselves. On the other end is an NPC who is openly hostile or rude to the PCs. Someone who hates them and who might become something more to them in an antagonistic way in the future.

I would probably leave the far ends of the scales alone for random NPCs unless the PCs have had numerous positive or negative dealings with the NPC.

What does the NPC want?

What the NPC wants can have a direct impact on their disposition. If they want to steal or cause harm to the PCs they are more likely to have a negative disposition towards the PCs. Is the NPC someone who wants something from the players? Is he a merchant looking to sell, or perhaps someone who needs something recovered? Or do they just want to be left alone to go about their business, that is probably the case of the neutrally disposed NPC.

Knowing what the NPC wants is something we should determine first and from there we can use this to determine a more accurate disposition for the NPC.

The Motivation of the NPC

The thing that motivates the NPC is something a player can use to change her disposition in their favor making social encounters easier? Is it money? Money is probably a motivator for a lot of people and is the easiest one for the players to figure out. Bribing someone with cash can be the easiest way to change there disposition towards a character. Of course there is probably a few people out there that will see an attempted bribe as an insult and may move disposition away from the players.

Maybe something else motivates them though, which could make things more interesting: family, friends, trinkets, food, jewels. You can use these to help flesh out the NPC. If the NPC is motivated by jewels, perhaps she is adorned in several of them, or mentions them in conversation. Likewise someone motivated by fine wine, might be overweight, or have a winejug with them. These small details might be picked up by the players making observation tests to determine more information about the NPC.

The NPCs motivation might not be something useful at all. The motivation of someone not motivated by money, who will do anything for their family, might not be useful to the players, unless they can determine that and are willing to do something....unsavory.

Quick Random NPC Tables

Now that we have a framework to build NPCs from, sometimes when the players encounter someone, or force and encounter with someone you will need to determine something about that NPC beyond basic stats. A few quick tables and a roll of a few D6 can generate this quickly and easily.

You can of course simply pick how you want the NPC to act, or build their framework however you want, but we all like rolling dice.

What do they want?
1 - Left alone (+)
2 - Left alone (-)
3 - Help finding something (+)
4 - Help finding someone (+)
5 - Rob the PCs (-)
6 - Lure the PCs into a trap(--)
Disposition
1 - Negative
2 - Negative
3 - Neutral
4 - Neutral
5 - Positive
6 - Positive
Motivated by Money?
1 - No
2 - Yes
3 - Yes
4 - Yes, but expensive
5 - Yes, but expensive
6 - Expensive and insulted by low offers
Other Motivation
1 - None
2 - None
3 - Delicacies
4 - Jewels
5 - Trinkets
6 - Family

So we roll 4d6 and consult the tables to describe the social aspects of the NPC. You will not that under the column, "What do they want?" each entry has a (+) or a (-) on it. Each + or minus will shift the disposition one direction, one step. So a (+) would move a hostile disposition to neutral and likewise a (--) would move a positive disposition to a negative one.

Lets see this idea in action

Your players are on a mission to rescue the king's beautiful daughter, the Princess of Zamora. They haven't simply ridden out to the evil Wizard's mountain as you expected, instead they have decided to hit the local tavern and see if they can glean any information from the tavern goers.

You are not really prepared for this, but as a good GM you have a set of generic human stats just in case, but of course these are not all generic people. The party warrior approaches someone at the bar and engages them in conversation........You as the GM, quickly roll 4d6.....and roll: 4,4,5,6. Suddenly the random generic tavern goer is someone in need of help, perhaps his own kin has been taken by the wizard, or maybe a more mundane kidnapping, either way as the PCs approach he sees warriors and maybe hope in finding his lost friend or family. He will react positively to the PCs, at least initially, although he *IS* motivated by money, he is expensive, but can also be swayed by family.

Now we have more than just a block of stats, now we have a somewhat fleshed out NPC that we put together at the drop of a hat with a few rolls on a very basic set of tables. How many options these tables get is limited only by you imagination and the world the NPC lives in.

Until Next Time. Keep it Weird!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Momentum Dials for Conan 2d20!

In a short continuation from my last blog post I am working to increase the cool factor of my Conan 2d20 game. On top of that, one of the things I have never really enjoyed is how we track momentum for players at the table. Up to this point we have used glass tokens controlled by me, which work ok but generally end up with me forgetting to put some away or something similar.

Moving to having the players track their momentum means I only need to remember to double check remaining momentum with the players for transfer into the group pool. It will also prevent that random momentum token that is sitting on the table.

Having players track their own momentum isn't new, but I wanted something besides dice to do it with. So I again turned to The Game Crafter to build some cool custom components for my game to track momentum.



So, these are what I came up with. Overall I am pretty happy with them, although they are a little larger than I had anticipated, I had "X-wing Maneuver Dials" in my head, these are much larger at 2.5 x 2.5 in". Either way I think these will be a cool way for the players to track their momentum as well as add that extra cool factor!

These were designed for momentum tracking, but could really be used to track any number from 0-9 in any fantasy game.

The dials are available here if you want your own set. Momentum Dials

Until next time! Keep it weird!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Conan 2d20: Chase Trials.

Recently we talked about a mechanic to bring extended tests into Conan 2d20. We named this the Trial. Today we are going to extend this a little further using what amounts to Trial struggle, or the Chase Trial

We saw a Trial denoted like this, "10-D2", where D2 was the difficulty and 10 was the total momentum that needed to be generated to complete the extended test. The Chase Trial will work essentially the same way. One side will be given the Trial, and the other side a simple difficulty rating.

The Chase

Those being chased will be given a Trial they will need to complete to escape, ie 15-D1. In order to escape their pursuers they must complete the Trial. Those chasing will make their own skill roll, and as in a struggle the total momentum available will be the difference between the two.

Those escaping can, of course, use any momentum left to work through the Trial, while those giving chase can use their momentum to undo whatever headway the escapees have made.

How Far?

If we assume an accumulated momentum on this Trial of 0 is equivalent to the parties being in the same zone then we can take this a step further and introduce zones and ranged weapons into the mix. Perhaps an accumulated momentum of 1 or 2 indicates the two parties are at medium range and an accumulated momentum of 3 or 4 indicates long range.

How many momentum is indicated by range will largely by the GMs call. A short chase across a grassland might mean 3 momentum still indicates close range, while a long chase through the narrow streets of the Maul might indicate only 1 momentum is medium range and beyond that you lose line of sight on your opponents.

Test Difficulty

Generally, start the difficulty at 1 and add to it based on the environment. The total momentum required will vary based on the number of players, how capable they are, and how much they are willing to risk. If the player leading the challenge is unwilling to use Doom to gain additional dice, the players may flounder, especially if their base difficulty is 2 or higher.

  • Escape through a well known, lit city. Base difficulty = D1.
  • Escape through a known darkened city. +1 Difficulty = D2.
  • Escape through an unknown, darkened city. +2 Difficulty = D3.


Here are a few quick samples illustrating this as an idea.
Quick escape through known darkened streets - 10-D2 Survival/Stealth vs D2 Observation/Survival
Quick escape through unknown darkened streets - 10-D3 Survival/Stealth vs D2 Observation/Survival
Prolonged Escape through known daylight streets - 15-D1 Survival/Stealth vs D1 Observation/Survival
Chasing a cart on horseback along a forested road - 10-D2 Animal Handling vs D1 Animal Handling

The night is dark and a thick mist has descended upon the city. Two men stand outside a money house, while a third crouches and works the lock with slender tools that glint occasionally in whatever light is available. The standing men are both of native stock, Nemedia, while the third is clearly Zamoran. The Nemedians scan the area and one speaks, "Hurry up."

"Almost there.....", replies the Zamoran, his voice trailing off in concentration.

With a click the door opens and a quick sly smile jumps across the Zamoran's face. Just as quickly the smile vanishes as men in clanking armor and the livery of the Numalian town guard step from the shadows and utter a single command, "HALT!"

The three companions look at each other and with a small nod that only their years together allowed them to understand. They bolted off into the night, the guardsmen in pursuit!

Round 1
Momentum Pool: 2
Doom Pool: 13

GM: Ok! You escape into the fairly familiar streets of the city with the guards hot on your tail. Your difficulty in evading the guard is 10-D2 Stealth or Survival, and they are at a D2 to catch up to you.
Nemedian1: I have a 15/3 Survival rating so I will take the lead.
Nemedian2: I assist with my 13/2 observation helping to pick the safest path through the darkness.
Zamoran: I will assist with my Stealth 12/2 skill, helping us stay as silent as possible.
GM: Ok Roll!
Nemedian1: I roll 4 dice, buying 1 with momentum. 15, 1, 2 and 12 for 6 successes and 4 momentum!
Nemedian2: I roll my assistance die! I roll a 2 adding 2 more success!
Zamoran: I roll 1 die as well. I get a 4. That is 1 more success!
GM: Your total momentum for the struggle is 7!
GM: Ok. The Squad of guards rolls. 3 for the Sgt with an observation of 9/1 and 4 more for the rest of his unit also at 9/1
GM: 10,9,1,13,17,4 and 15 for 4 Successes and 2 momentum vs your total momentum of 7
GM: You manage to put some ground ground between you and them. Your total momentum for the escape is at 5/10.

Round 2
Momentum Pool: 0
Doom Pool: 12

Nemedian1: I roll 3 dice! a 3, 14 and a 10, for 4 successes and 2 momentum!
Nemedian2: I also roll assistance 1d20 against my observation again! I get a 1! 2 more successes!
Zamoran: I assist with my stealth again rolling my 1d20! 12 for 1 successes.
GM: Your total momentum for the struggle is 5!
GM: The sergeant buys 3 dice with doom and the rest of the squad rolls 4, for a total of 9d20 all at 9/1.
GM: 3,10,19,11,20,7,13,13,10 for a total of 2 successes and 0 momentum, PLUS a complication!
GM: Your total momentum for this Trial is now at 10!

The three men race into the familiar streets of the city, the night and mist work in their favor as they quickly slip away from the guardsmen that were laying in wait to catch these three thieves.......


Until Next Time

If you have any ideas or thoughts about this as a simple system to mechanically run chases, let me know. Feel free to drop a comment or check me out on YouTube .

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Weird West, REH Style.

All night Ghost Man did magic, callin' my ghost back from spirit-land. I remember that flight, a little. It was dark, and gray-like, and I drifted through gray mists and heard the dead wailin' past me in the mist. But Ghost Man brought me back.
Old Garfield’s Heart
-Robert E. Howard

The time is the late 1800s. The place is the western United States; the Wild West. The idea of it brings images of a dusty landscape populated with lawless men preying on the helpless, with the occasional man of character defending them. A time of gunslingers, prospectors and pioneers. It is a time of romanticized violence in the Americas. A time of barbarism vs. civilization.

In this time legends were born: "Billy the Kid", "Wild Bill", "Butch Cassidy" and "Wyatt Earp" are just a few of the men who have been made into icons of this time. The places these men fought and died have become just as famous as the people themselves: "The Shootout at the OK Corral", "El Paso Gunfight", "Northfield Bank Raid" to name only a few of these events.

In the Early 21st century, over a century since men rode horses and brandished six shooters, we are still enthralled by this era. Television shows such as Hell on Wheels, Deadwood and Godless are all set in this time, while Westworld, a modern remake of a classic uses the west as a backdrop. As I write this Red Dead Redemption II has just been released, and seems to be selling well, another testament to our interest in this time period.

But what of the pulp era? Why have I chosen to talk about the Wild West? The Pulps as I generally think of them are published from about the 1900s to sometime in the 1950s. I generally narrow my scope to the 30s and earlier, simply because I am often talking about Robert E Howard and his contemporaries. If we do a search on wild west pulp magazines we turn up a cornucopia of pulp magazine covers dedicated to the Wild West, plenty of which fall into this pre-1930s era. Clearly they were popular.

As a man living in Texas, having seen the effect of boom-town America, trying to make a living selling yarns to the pulps, it should not be a surprise to anyone that Mr. Howard penned his share of western tales. Especially given his interest in the cycles of civilization.

But I didn’t write this article to talk about the Wild West, despite its interest to many people. I want to talk about a sub-genre: The Weird West. Take all the adventure the Wild West serves up and drop in fantasy and horror elements. Perhaps a secretive eastern sorcerer is up to no good, or a ghost train haunts the tracks. Maybe the outlaws have come face to face with a zombie horde?

Where men with swords in the dark ages meets the fantastic and magical we get Swords and Sorcery.
Where the six gun meets the weird we get the Weird West.

The RPGs

The RPG I know that falls, perhaps most famously, is the Savage World setting: Deadlands. There are others, most of which I am not familiar with, but I wanted to also say the ICRPG has a Weird West setting called Ghost Mountain which shouldn’t be missed.


The Inspiration

Across social media I see people asking the same question as they move into this setting, “What can I read/watch for inspiration?”. Of course watching westerns will get you into the right headspace, everything from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” all the way up to more modern westerns like Tombstone.

I wanted to give a mention to a fairly brutal film that I think fits in here nicely as both a solid western as well as a film that touches on the potentially weird aspects of the west, "Bone Tomahawk". If you haven’t seen it and are ok with fictionalized realistic violence, I recommend checking out this film.

The Stories of REH

As I am sure you have guessed by now Robert E Howard wrote a few weird west tales as well.

Most of these stories are available online or through audio book. I strongly suggest you check them out as some of the foundational work in this genre. You can find them at Project Gutenberg and then doing a search for Robert E HOWARD

Pigeons from Hell. If you are familiar with REH and the Weird West I am sure you are thinking to yourself, “What? This isn’t set in the Wild West!”. Before you think I am crazy though, this is set in the 1890s around the same time as the Wild West. Despite it dealing with magic of the south, the ideas and concepts wouldn’t be hard to find inspiration from for the Weird West.

Old Garfield’s Heart. One of my favorites. Great story about a man and First Nations magic. Lots of good ideas and ambiance in this one!

The Valley of the Lost. Robert E Howard and vanished civilizations go together like cookouts and beans. This western tale is one of an ancient civilization, blood feuds and shootouts. It is definitely worth your time.

Horror from the Mound. Another classic REH tale. This time burial mounds and ancient curses are the order of the day.

The Dead Remember. A story about magic and revenge set in 1877. Told as a series of statements by the main characters and eye witnesses to the events the story revolves around. Not surprisingly, another good one.

Beyond the Black River. Yes, it’s a Conan story, but it’s also set on a frontier and is as much a western as anything. It features a fort, scouts, the Picts, magic and dark forests. It is an excellent story that you should be able to pull a fair amount from and push into a more traditional Wild West setting.

Do you have some more ideas on what stories Robert E Howard wrote that would help readers get an idea for some Weird West adventures. Do you have any favorite Weird West games you like?

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Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Naval Combat in the Hyborian Age: Conan 2d20, an overview and example.

It was just at sunrise when the lookout shouted a warning. Around the long point of an island off the starboard bow glided a long lethal shape, a slender serpentine galley, with a raised deck that ran from stem to stern. Forty oars on each side drove her swiftly through the water, and the low rail swarmed with naked blacks that chanted and clashed spears on oval shields. From the masthead floated a long crimson pennon.
Queen of the Black Coast
-Robert E. Howard

Overview

Like many things in Conan 2d20, small details are ignored to bring big action and quick resolution. We generally don't count arrows and we don't concern ourselves with exactly how many coins of gold we find. Naval combat works like this, scaling up regular combat to the high seas. Allowing us to resolve the epic ship battles of the open water in only a few rounds.

This is not a wargame by any stretch of the imagination. It is a high level abstraction of ship combat that allows PCs to still be central to the action. Like combat at a man to man level we have familiar ideas like zones, soak, stress(structure) and harm(breaks). Despite these similarities a man's weapon isn't going to cause damage to a ship, but flaming arrows, ramming and siege weapons can all batter and destroy a ship sending it to the depths.

Ship Positions & Roles

Crew Assignment - One or more crew members on a ship assigned to the same task. If the crew assignment is larger than one, then one of the crew assignment is designated as the leader and the others as support. For example a PC might be the leader on a crew assignment that commands the ship and have a number of NPCs to assist in the role.

A ship is split into various positions that describe the functions a ship might perform during its turn: Commander, Helmsman, Lookout, Marine and Piper. Each of these positions has a selection of actions they can perform; marines can try and grapple the enemy ship or fire flaming arrows at it, Commanders can attempt to coordinate actions or assign command crew.

Each crew assignment is able to complete one action in a ship's turn. In order for a ship to complete one of these actions in a turn, it must have a crew assignment to complete the skill test associated with it. For marines to shoot flaming arrows there must be one or more marines assigned to attempt a ranged weapons test.

Each position can only have one crew assignment associated with it. You can't have two command crews and perform two coordinate actions in a turn. The only position this is different, is the marine crew. You can have as many marine crew assignments as you have men for.

This is a list of the positions, what they do, and the number of crew assignments they can have.
  • Commander - Generally giving orders and coordinating. Adding momentum to the pool and moving crewmen around if needed. 1 crew assignment.
  • Helmsman - Making movement decisions and sailing tests to avoid shallows, reefs and debris. 1 crew assignment.
  • Lookout - Watching and adding momentum to movement and helping to coordinate attacks. 1 crew assignment.
  • Marines - Boarding, Firing arrows (Normal and flame), firing siege equipment. 1+ crew assignment.
  • Piper - Coordination of the rowers. Adding momentum to movement. 1 crew assignment.
Large ships will generally have enough crew to create larger crew assignments and be more effective. Smaller ships will have less effective crew assignments, or in the case of very small vessels, not enough crew to fill all the roles, causing them to not be able to perform an action from each position during a turn.


The term "Crew Assignment" is one of my own creation to help clarify the positions on a ship. Conan the Pirate talks about crew (generally the PCs) and Support crew. However support crew are a part of the rules that could use a little bit of clarity. I play them based on my idea of the crew assignment and assistance rules; the leader rolls their dice and the support crew roll their dice. If the leader is successful then the support successes are added in. If I was GMing a party of six adventurers on a sailing vessel and they had managed to scare up 20 crew members, they might organize their vessel something like this.
  • Commander - PC1 - 2 crew - Command rolls are PCs 2d20-5d20 + 2d20 assistance dice from the crew.
  • Helmsman - PC2 - 3 crew - Helmsman rolls are PCs 2d20-5d20 + 3d20 assistance dice from the crew.
  • Lookout - PC3 - 3 crew - Lookout rolls are PCs 2d20-5d20 + 3d20 assistance dice from the crew.
  • Marines - PC4 - 4 crew (Squad with PC) - Marine rolls are PCs 2d20-5d20 + 4d20 assistance dice from the crew.
  • Marines - PC5 - 4 crew (Squad with PC) - Marine rolls are PCs 2d20-5d20 + 4d20 assistance dice from the crew.
  • Marines - PC6 - 4 crew (Squad with PC) - Marine rolls are PCs 2d20-5d20 + 4d20 assistance dice from the crew.

Reactions

Although the rules state a single action per crew assignment, it lists actions as a Standard Action and as a Reaction. This is another area I feel the rules could use a little work, but it we assume a scaled up version of normal combat, in which players receive a single standard action and can still perform reactions, we can reasonably make the same assumption here. We can of course make the same assumption on the cost of these reactions being 1 doom for the first, 2 for the second etc.

The Ships

As I mentioned combat is essentially scaled up from standard melee combat. Each ship is given basic specifications, some matter for combat and some do not. The ones we care the most about are as follows.
  • Structure - Stress of the ship.
  • Breaks - How many breaks it takes to destroy/sink/incapacitate the ship.
  • Soak - How much armor the ship has.
  • Maneuver - How nimble a ship is, grants bonus d20s on sailing tests.
  • Qualities - Some of these are general concepts and don't lend themselves to combat, others allow combat centric abilities like quicker moves, or easier ramming.

Damage

Ships can suffer from a few types of damage. Ramming, flaming arrows and siege weapons can all cause physical damage that can sink the vessel. Boarding and regular arrows generally cause non-lethal damage, and again the rules are a little loose here, so use your best judgement on how many crew are actually killed if the ship takes several non-lethal breaks.

Final Thoughts

As a set of rules these could use a little more polish. There is a large portion of gamers that want to play RAW and some things just don't make sense as they are written. Others require more of a leap of faith than some are willing to make. If you can get past that, then you can easily use this as a framework to play out high level narrative combats on the high seas, while allowing each PC to handle a specific action on a ship.

An Example

In the example to follow we will break it down in depth and split each ship turn up into the crew positions. Our example will illustrate a battle between a Merchant Cog named "The Promise of Ishtar" being attack by a Pirate Caravel named "The Fury of Set". Below are the specifications for the two ships. You will see that the "Fury of Set" has a maneuver of 1, and so will gain +1d20 to sailing tests. It is also listed as agile which means it can move an additional zone with any movement action it takes.

Also take note that the "Promise of Ishtar" is a much heavier ship with more structure and breaks than the caravel has.

To further help in our example, we will call the "Promise of Ishtar" the PC vessel and the "Fury of Set" the NPC vessel. Further we will assume all crew positions have an acting leader, who is at least toughened, to give each ship equal actions during a turn. We will also assume play has been in sessions for awhile and the players have 3 momentum in their pool while the GM has 15 doom accumulated.

Fury of Set

Class: Caravel Sailing Range: 14 Days Maneuver: 1
Soak: 2 Structure: 6 Breaks: 3
Crew: 20
Qualities: Agile, Shallow Draft, Ship
Stowage: 100

Promise of Ishtar

Class: Cog Sailing Range: 8 Days Maneuver: 0
Soak: 2 Structure: 10 Breaks: 4
Crew:10
Qualities: Deep Draft, Ship
Stowage: --

Here I have laid out the crew assignments for the various ship positions. As well as the skill Target Number(TN) and Focus(FC) we are most likely to need in this scenario.

Crew Assignments
Fury of Set Promise of Ishtar
Commander 1 Leader
3 crew
Command Skill: 9/1
1 Leader
1 crew
Command Skill: 10/2
Helmsman 1 Leader
4 crew
Sailing Skill: 9/1
1 Leader
1 crew
Sailing Skill: 12/1
Lookout 1 Leader
4 crew
Observation Skill: 10/1
1 Leader
1 crew
Observation Skill: 9/2
Marines 1 Leader
4 crew
Ranged Skill: 10/1
Command Skill: 10/1
1 Leader
1 crew
Ranged Skill: 9/1
Command Skill: 10/1
Piper
None
None

One final note before we move to the example. It will seem long as there is a lot of writing, however it is only 3.5 rounds of combat. I have also not included any descriptive text as this was designed to be a mechanical example of the rules. Of course if you have any questions or find any mistakes please drop me a line or leave a comment on the blog!


Khemi was still a day away, and as the sun began to set, the crew of the “Promise of Ishtar” prepared for another night at sea. They sailed from Messantia loaded with cargo, headed for the northern end of the Black Coast. They had travelled this route many times, past dark coves and around small islands holding mysterious ruins.

The remainder of the day was quiet in the embrace of the dying sun, only the sound of the ship’s prow plying the waves made any discernable noise. Suddenly the silence was broken by a sharp cry from the lookout as he spotted a long dark shape sliding out of one of the shallow coves. Its mast flying a brightly colored pennon, floating on the breeze. Its triangular sails unfurled and full of wind as it bore down on them with remarkable speed.

“By Mitra!” The captain cursed. “Get ready ya dogs! That be the Fury of Set!”.


Opening set-up.  "Fury of set" sailing out of the cove to attack "Promise of Ishtar".


Round 1


  • Momentum: 3
  • Doom: 15
The Fury of set is headed toward the Promise of Ishtar, but is currently at long range and running with the wind.
Players always get initiative unless the GM interrupts.

Promise of Ishtar
"Promise of Ishtar" takes damage in the shallows.

Commander: Coordinate.
  • D1 Command Test vs. 10/2. Rolls 2d20(9,17). 1 success, 0 momentum.
  • Crew support of 1 rolls 1d20(19). 0 successes, 0 momentum.
  • No momentum spent.
  • No momentum is added to the group pool.
Lookout: Heading.
  • D1 Observation Test vs 9/2. Rolls 2d20(14,14). 0 successes. Failure.
  • No momentum spent.
  • No momentum is added to the group pool.
Helmsman: Full Sail.
  • It is a deep draft ship, so the difficulty is increased by 1 step due to crossing shallow waters.
  • Move 2 zones. Z5->Z6->Z4. D2 Sailing Test vs. 12/2. Rolls 3d20(13,16,5). 1 success. Failure.
  • The ship fails to cross the shallow water and slows as it takes damage ending its turn in Z6. The hazard causes 3cd(2,5,6).
  • Promise of Ishtar suffers 2 structure damage as her soak absorbs 2 points.
  • 1 momentum spent. (+1d20) (2 left)
  • No momentum is added to the group pool.

Fury of Set
"Fury of Set" softens her prey with flaming arrows.

Commander: Coordinate.
  • D1 Command Test vs. 9/1. Rolls 3d20(1,5,10). 2 successes, 1 momentum.
  • Crew support of 3 rolls 3d20(15,19,2). 1 success, 1 momentum.
  • 1 doom is spent. (+1d20)
  • 2 doom is added to the doom pool. (16 left)
Lookout: Heading.
  • D1 Observation Test vs, 10/1. Rolls 2d20(4,15). 1 success, 0 momentum.
  • Crew support of 3 rolls 3d20(8,4,19). 2 successes, 2 momentum.
  • 0 doom is spent.
  • 2 doom is added to the doom pool. (17 left)
Marines: The ships are now in close range. Flaming Arrows.
  • "Promise of Ishtar" attempts to evade and pays 1 doom for the reaction.
  • Reaction Struggle
    • "Fury of Set" D1 Ranged attack vs 10/1. 4d20(19,16,14,4)+crew 4d20(8,18,7,13)=2 momentum.
    • "Promise of Ishtar" D1 Sailing Test vs 12/1. 5d20(8,10,16,3,14)+crew 1d20(15)=2 momentum.
    • GM spends 1 point of doom to break the tie for the NPCs.
  • Flame arrows cause 4cd(4,2,2,3) damage to the "Promise of Ishtar". 2 points are soaked.
  • She takes points of structure damage.
  • 3 doom is spent. (+3d20)
  • 2 doom from PCs. (1 reaction, (+1d20)(18 left)
  • 2 momentum spent. (+2d20)(0 left)

Round 2


  • Momentum: 0
  • Doom: 18

GM interrupts initiative and "The Fury of Set" goes first.

Fury of Set
"Fury of Set" grapples and pulls in her quarry!

Commander: Coordinate.
  • D1 Command Test vs. 9/1. Rolls 3d20(12,12,13). 0 successes. Failure.
  • 1 doom is spent. (+1d20)(17 left)
Lookout: Heading.
  • D1 Observation Test vs. 10/1. Rolls 4d20(17,5,15,10). 2 successes, 1 momentum.
  • Crew support adds 4d20(10,14,19,18). 1 success, 1 momentum.
  • 2 doom is spent. (+2d20)
  • 2 doom is added to the doom pool. (17 left)
Helmsman: Standard motion. Z6 close – Z6 reach.
  • D1 Sailing test vs. 9/1. Rolls 4d20(17,2,17,4). 2 successes, 1 momentum.
  • Crew support adds 4d20(8,14,6,9). 3 successes, 3 momentum.
  • 1 doom is spent. (+1d20)
  • 4 doom is added to the doom pool. (22 left)
Marines: Grapple.
  • D2 Ranged attack. "Promise of Ishtar" attempt to evade spending 1 doom.
  • Reaction Struggle
    • "Fury of Set" D2 Ranged attack vs 10/1. 5d20(10,11,8,4,4)+crew 4d20(17,6,2,4)=5 momentum.
    • "Promise of Ishtar" D1 Sailing Test vs 12/1. 5d20(4,14,11,19,2)+crew 1d20(16)=2 momentum.
    • "Fury of Set" wins the struggle with 3 momentum.
  • 3 Doom is spent. (+3d20)
  • 4 doom from PCs. (reaction, +3d20)
  • 3 doom is added to the doom pool. (26 left)

Promise of Ishtar
"Promise of Ishtar" fails to cut herself free.

Commander: Coordinate.
  • D1 Command Test vs. 10/2. Rolls 2d20(7,3). 2 success, 1 momentum.
  • Crew support of 1 rolls 1d20(6). 1 successes, 1 momentum.
  • No momentum spent.
  • 2 momentum is added to the group pool. (2 left)
Lookout: Heading.
  • D1 Observation Test vs 9/2. Rolls 2d20(16,15). 0 successes. Failure.
  • No momentum spent.
  • No momentum is added to the group pool.
Helmsman: The ships are grappled and floating aimlessly within the zone.
There are no rules presented to ungrapple the ships, or at least non that I can find. You can assume it is not possible in combat or you can allow the grapples to be unhooked if a boarding action is successful. We will allow the grapples to be unhooked after a successful boarding action.
    Marines: Boarding Action. Attackers are at D0 when attacking during a grapple.
    • Command Struggle D0 vs. D1
    • Struggle
      • "Promise of Ishtar" D0 Command Test vs 9/1. 4d20(3,19,10,4)+crew 1d20(5)=3 momentum.
      • "Fury of Set" D1 Command Test vs 10/1. 5d20(7,1,4,5,12)+crew 4d20(8,10,6,19)=7 momentum.
      • "Fury of Set" wins the struggle with 4 momentum.
    • 2 momentum is spent. (+2d20) (0 left)
    • 3 doom is spent. (+3d20)
    • 4 doom is added to the doom pool. (27 left)

    Round 3


    • Momentum: 0
    • Doom: 27

    GM interrupts initiative and "The Fury of Set" goes first.

    Fury of Set
    Savage pirates board and kill on "Promise of Ishtar".

    Commander: Coordinate.
    • D1 Command Test vs. 9/1. Rolls 5d20(19,16,2,15,2). 2 successes, 1 momentum.
    • Crew support adds 3d20(9,17,11,3). 2 success, 2 momentum.
    • 3 doom is spent. (+3d20)
    • 3 doom is added to the doom pool. (26 left)
    Lookout: Heading.
    • D1 Observation Test vs. 10/1. Rolls 5d20(17,10,1,5,17). 4 successes, 3 momentum.
    • Crew support adds 4d20(9,17,11,3). 2 success, 2 momentum.
    • 3 doom is spent. (+3d20)
    • 5 doom is added to the doom pool. (28 left)
    Marines: Boarding Action. Attackers are at D0 when attacking during a grapple.
    • Command Struggle D0 vs. D1
    • Struggle
      • "Fury of Set" D0 Command Test vs 10/1. 5d20(11,19,9,8,6)+crew 4d20(8,2,19,19)=5 momentum.
      • "Promise of Ishtar" D1 Command Test vs 9/1. 4d20(17,15,19,8,3)+crew 1d20(8)=2 momentum.
      • "Fury of Set" wins the struggle with 3 momentum. Note this is not doom yet, but momentum generated from a test and so can be used for non-immediate spends.
    • Boarding actions cause 5cd NON-LETHAL damage.
      • Rolls 5cd(4,1,1,2,6).
      • 1 momentum to re-roll the 4 and a 1. Rolls 2cd(6,5). Total damage = 6.
      • 1 momentum to gain a penetrating attack ignoring 2 points of soak.
    • "Promise of Ishtar" takes 2 breaks. 1 for suffering more than 5 structure in a single attack and 1 for having it's structure drop below 0.
    • Note: You may wish to reduce the crew of "Promise of Ishtar" by about 1/2 as it's now suffered half of it's breaks. For this example we won't bother. You should do whatever makes narrative sense.
    • 3 doom from PCs (+3d20)
    • 3 doom is spent. (+3d20)
    • 1 doom is added to the doom pool. (27 left)

    Promise of Ishtar
    "Ishtar" fails to cut herself free again.

    Commander: Assign Crew.
    • D1 Command Test vs. 10/2. Rolls 2d20(17,15). 0 success. Failure.
    • No momentum spent.
    • No momentum is added to the group pool.
    Lookout: Heading.
    • D1 Observation Test vs 9/2. Rolls 4d20(5,16,15,7). 2 successes, 1 momentum.
    • Crew support adds 1d20(19). 0 success, 2 momentum.
    • No momentum spent.
    • 1 momentum is added to the group pool.
    • 2 doom from PCs. (+2d20)(28 left)
    Marines: Boarding Action. Attackers are at D0 when attacking during a grapple.
    • Command Struggle D0 vs. D1
    • Struggle
      • "Promise of Ishtar" D0 Command Test vs 9/1. 5d20(14,1,9,8,10)+crew 1d20(14)=4 momentum.
      • "Fury of Set" D1 Command Test vs 10/1. 5d20(12,16,5,5,9)+crew 4d20(6,14,7,12)=4 momentum.
      • Gm breaks the tie in favor of the "Fury of Set"
    • 1 momentum is spent. (+1d20) (0 left)
    • 2 doom from PCs. (+2d20)
    • 4 doom is spent. (+3d20, Tie Break)
    • 0 doom is added to the doom pool. (24 left)

    Round 4


    • Momentum: 0
    • Doom: 24

    GM interrupts initiative and "The Fury of Set" goes first.

    Fury of Set
    The Pirate's of Fury of Set finish the job, taking the ship.

    Commander: Coordinate.
    • D1 Command Test vs. 9/1. Rolls 2d20(19,10). 0 successes. Failure.
    • 0 doom is spent.
    • 0 doom is added to the doom pool. (23 left)
    Lookout: Heading.
    • D1 Observation Test vs. 10/1. Rolls 2d20(7,11). 1 successes, 0 momentum.
    • Crew support adds 4d20(14,19,11,3). 2 success, 1 momentum.
    • 0 doom is spent.
    • 1 doom is added to the doom pool. (24 left)
    Marines: Boarding Action. Attackers are at D0 when attacking during a grapple.
    • Command Struggle D0 vs. D1
    • Struggle
      • "Fury of Set" D0 Command Test vs 10/1. 5d20(9,1,6,15,2)+crew 4d20(19,3,16,9)=7 momentum.
      • "Promise of Ishtar" D1 Command Test vs 9/1. 5d20(3,17,19,10,2)+crew 1d20(6)=2 momentum.
      • "Fury of Set" wins the struggle with 5 momentum. Note this is not doom yet, but momentum generated from a test and so can be used for non-immediate spends.
    • Boarding actions cause 5cd NON-LETHAL damage.
      • Rolls 5cd(5,3,2,2,2).
      • Total damage = 11 structure damage - 2 soak = 9 structure damage.
    • "Promise of Ishtar" takes 2 breaks. 1 for suffering more than 5 structure in a single attack and 1 for having it's structure drop below 0.
    • 3 doom from PCs. (+3d20)
    • 3 doom is spent. (+3d20)
    • 5 doom is added to the doom pool. (29 left)

    "Promise of Ishtar" has now suffered 4 non-lethal breaks and so has been subdued and taken over by the "Fury of Set".

    Friday, October 19, 2018

    Conan 2d20. Skill Trials

    In previous articles I have talked about how success in Conan2d20 aren't simply pass/fail. There is a measure of how well a character completes a skill test; how well you attack, observe or hide. Momentum is an easy way to track this, each point you generate allows you cause more damage, do cool stunts or learn more about your environment.

    Generally failure is, however, still failure. The one place this is different is combat. If I am fighting a skeleton and I make a melee skill check to hit and I fail, the skeleton is still there. I get to try again to succeed in the next round. Compare this to your party sage trying to decipher ancient runes on the wall. If he rolls a failure, it's all over and the meaning of the writing is lost forever, beyond the abilities of our heroes. Certainly there are mechanics in games that work to address this, such as "taking 20" but most of these make the assumption that the player and their character has essentially unlimited time to solve the puzzle or make the skill check.

    Today we are going to try and address this potential issue with something I am calling a "Trial". I didn't invent this mechanic. Several other systems use it, such as ICRPG and the AGE system. (It has been noted since I published this that both the Infinty and Star Trek 2d20 RPG systems have similar mechanics.) These "Trials" also works well once it is placed alongside the "TIMER" mechanic from ICRPG. Now rolling a failure, in a time sensitive encounter, doesn't mean they will never know what it says. Now it just takes them longer to figure it out. How long it takes might be a key part of a combat encounter; can the sage get the door open before the horde of ghouls overwhelms the party?

    Some ideas for skill tests that might benefit from these "Trials" are deciphering runes, solving puzzles, exploring ruins or jungles, negotiating costs etc. It can give your non-combat characters the ability to work to complete something during combat and contribute to success of the party instead of taking the backseat.

    The Basic Idea

    The current iteration of the system is quite simple. I make a note like 10-D3, which signifies a 10 momentum D3 challenge. Succeeding at the challenge lowers the total by 1 and momentum generated goes towards solving the puzzle or being stored in the pool. When challenge momentum reaches 10 you have solved the puzzle, deciphered the runes, made it through the jungle etc.

    Probably the easiest way to track this is to pick a momentum score that is a multiple of one of the types of dice we use for general RPG play, this way you can easily use a die to track how much progress a players has made. You could even get a special set of dice that you use only for "Trials", this way players can easily tell what they are and how much work still needs to be done.

    Round 1:
    Our Sage, Altan, has come across a series of strange runes at the end of a corridor. He suspects deciphering the runes is key to opening the passage, and so sets to work.
    Player: I try and decipher the runes.
    GM: Ok it's a 5-D3 test.
    Player: I will roll 4d20 against his Lore score of 13/2 and get 8,9,15,13.
    Altan looks over the runes and begins his work to decipher them. At first he doesn't recognize anything, but finally he thinks he has a good place to start and continues to work on them.

    Round 2:
    Altan continues to work on deciphering the runes, as his work continues his fellow adventurers hold off the ongoing things in the dark, but time runs short and his friends are being to fall back.
    Player: I continue to try working on the runes.
    GM: OK, since you succeeded last time it is now a 4-D3 test.
    Player: I will roll 5d20 against his Lore score of 13/2 and I will use a Fortune for one of the dice. 10,5,17,19,1. Giving me 1 point of momentum.
    GM: The test has been reduced to a 2d3 test. Altan works hurriedly decoding and deciphering, he believes he has slightly more than half of the words figured out, but they still don't make much sense.

    Round 3:
    In the darkness, something large stalks towards the party. Four warriors standing, heaving with exhaustion. Blood and sweat drip down their bodies. Behind them, seeking the way out, an older man in robes hurriedly works, scrawling in a notebook.
    GM: Something large will be upon your party next round
    Player: I continue to work!
    GM: OK, We now have a 2-D3 test! All you need is success and a momentum! .
    Player: I will roll 5d20 again agains his Lore score of 13/2. I roll 17,10,4,4,12, giving me 4 successes!
    GM: You solve the runes! They are an ancient version of Turanian your didn't initially recognize. They tell you to how to open this passage and so you do, allowing you and your fellows to escape the coming doom.

    Lending a hand

    Assistance generally works the same as before, players can try and lend a hand by rolling an extra die and hopefully adding momentum to the pool. It was suggested another way to handle this is to allow the players to choose which skill they will roll against to offer the assistance. All they have to do is narrate their character using the skill in the scene.


    Our Heroes set out into the desert looking for a long forgotten tomb of an ancient Stygian king. All they have is a map and the setting sun.
    GM: It is going to take you 10-D2 Survival Trialto navigate the desert with the information you have. Failing a test will cause fatigue to occur. Player 1: I have the highest Survival test so I will make that as a roll.
    GM: Will anyone assist?
    Player 2: My alchemist would like to use Lore to assist to better understand the map.
    Player 3: I would like to use Observation to keep a keen eye on the horizon and make sure we are not going astray.
    Player 4: I use my counsel skill to keep everyone's spirits up, hoping the high moral will keep our heads about us.
    GM: Ok. make your rolls!
    Player 1: As lead I roll 5d20 against my Survival of 14/2. I roll 13,7,8,8,16 = Success and 3 momentum.
    Player 2: I roll my assist vs my Lore of 13/1. 10 = +1 momentum
    Player 3: My roll vs. my Observation of 12/2 is 3 = +1 momentum.
    player 4: I roll against my Counsel of 12/2. I get a 5. +1 momentum!
    GM: Your total is 7, reducing the "Trial" to a 3-D2 test on your next round.


    Fatigue and Despair

    If your players are exploring a deep oppressive dungeons, parching desert or big infested swamps, it might be worth while having a negative effect to an outright skill check failure. Perhaps if the party is working on a Survival Trial, rolling to navigate the desert and they fail it can be assumed they wander hopelessly and gain 1cd Fatigue, and likewise if trapped in the oppressive dark of a dungeon and they fail they gain 1cd Despair.

    Complications

    The simplest complication is to raise the difficulty of the next test by 1. But other things could occur depending on what the test is. In a dungeon? Perhaps they set off a trap. In a desert? Perhaps they encounter a snake and they take 2cd before killing it. Negotiating in a tavern? Maybe they have been pickpocketed and lose 1cd+1 gold. Another idea is, especially if they are burning through the test too fast, to extend the length of the test by 2 per complication, or some variant depending on how much you want to slow them down.

    Conclusion

    I have used this a few times and find it to be a decent way to abstract explorations without having to focus on mapping. It allows you plenty of places to use combat and encounters to spice things up. It also allows non-combat characters to participate more and at a similar level to combat characters. Going forward I have a few more articles planned that will utilize this mechanic to enhance your sessions of Conan 2d20.

    Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

    Monday, May 28, 2018

    Easy DIY Gaming Table Upgrade!

    Welcome back!

    Last year, late in November I did a quick video on what I use for a gaming table. It was easy and cheap and created a cool lifted surface. You can find that video here: Gaming Table!

    I have always planned on rebuilding the top and making it nicer. Over the last year it has also warped a little, but not enough to be unusable. Since it functions and it would be a solely aesthetic upgrade it has become a low priority in my life. I did however have another idea I wanted to try out; under table LED lighting.


    As you can see it creates a pretty cool effect! I got this inexpensive set of lights from Aliexpress which has a nifty remote and allows changing of colors pretty easily! All of the colors are good except for the pure yellow, which looks more yellowy green.

    Total price for the strip and remote was about $10cad. Super inexpensive! I did have to get a battery for the remote that ran be a couple of dollars as well, but it didn't turn this from a $10 upgrade to a $30 upgrade. It was still under $15 when it was all said and done.

    This project is based on a raised tabletop, but if you had a sunken play area you could use it on that as well just as easily. It adds a new quick and easy dimension to your game that can really help with mood, if you can add this to your area, I highly recommend it!

    Have you done any upgrades like this to your gaming area? LED lights? something else cool? Drop me a note and let everyone know what cool things you have done!

    One last thing don't forget that buying items through quite a few of the links I provide gives me a small kick back which helps to support both the blog and the YouTube channel! Thank you to everyone that stops by and enjoys my ramblings!

    Until next time! Keep it weird!

    Wednesday, April 25, 2018

    RPG Accessories. Tokens, Trackers and Coins! Oh My!

    Tabletop roleplaying games need very little in the way of supplies to play; Some dice, Some paper and a pen or pencil. Of course you need a set of rules as well. Apart from that though? Nothing.

    BUT! There is always a but. Sometimes accessories can help take your game from cool to COOL. Most players like rolling dice. The physical aspect of touching and using an object adds to the fun. This idea can be applied to many other things we need to track!

    Many of these accessories can be made. DM Scotty has some videos on building things like this. Things like little quivers to track arrows instead of erasing 10 and writing 9 can be simple and add another element of fun to the game.

    Some games have a set number of Hero points, Bennies, Fortune or similar mechanic that could also benefit from this idea. Having a player toss in a coin of some description is more fun than just changing that number of the page.

    If you are busy like me, sometimes you don't have time to craft everything, or sometimes you just need so many tokens it's just not feasible to craft them.

    Below is a list of things that I have found on aliexpress, amazon and a few other places where you can simply drop some cash and grab your supplies. I personally use a far number of these in my Conan 2d20 games. Remember, AliExpress will generally be less expensive, but you will need to wait longer for shipping.

    Skull Beads! White! - AliExrpess
    Black! - Amazon.ca
    Flat Beads! White Acrylic - AliExpress
    Transparent glass cabochon - Amazon.ca
    Plastic chips AliExpress
    Amazon.ca
    Coins! Plastic Pirate Coins - AliExpress
    Fortune Coins - AliExpress
    Fortune Coins - Amazon.ca
    Metal Phoenix beads - AlieExpress
    Bowls for your Tokens AliExpress
    Amazon.ca
    Wound Trackers AliExpress

    Hopefully you will find something you can find useful, or it sparks your imagination!