'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

Banner ads

Places of Interest

Showing posts with label Runehammer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Runehammer. Show all posts

Monday, January 7, 2019

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


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.

Skill & Difficulty
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.

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.

Skill & Difficulty
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.

Skill & Difficulty
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.

Skill & Difficulty
Not Found
Bindings Next to one of the huts Observ. D1
Covered in snow
Iron shackles with arcane
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?
Skill & Difficulty
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.

If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!
If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

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?

If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!
If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog!

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

Friday, April 20, 2018



We are going to steer away from Conan for a minute and give a quick shout out to Runehammer Games! When I came back to gaming a few short years ago there was a group of youtube channels devoted to RPGs. I liked quite a few of those channels but one of the channels I came across and started following was Drunkens & Dragons(now Runehammer), it spoke to me at a slightly different level.

The presenter was engaging and didn't take himself too seriously, most of all he looked like he was having a BLAST. He had videos on crafting, but as well, he had videos on theory and ways to make your game more fun. Although he played D&D he obviously wasn't tied to the system.

As I and others watched we got to know more about Hankerin' Ferinale. He did a few drawing streams, he talked about getting people to draw. He was and IS always encouraging and giving back to the community through his YouTube channel and his podcast. He talked about quick props drawn on index cards. Something I still use to this day when I need to hand my players an object. Sharpies and Index cards are awesome. This idea led to his first set of pre-drawn index cards that can be used to generate story ideas, or as location representations or as general props. (Hey Hankerin' we could use some cards for some sort of pulpy swords on mars game......)

And then finally he released his version of an RPG. His codified thoughts on playing a fun game. ICRPG was here officially.

ICRPG is light on rules and heavy on fun. There is an active google+ group as well as many many online games showing the mechanics of how the system works, as well as a quickstart guide available for FREE! I admit I have little time to game and it's been chiefly focused on 2d20, and haven't had time to do more than read the rules, which I like. Even if you never played it the advice in the book makes it worth the price alone.

He has continued to work on and expand ICRPG, Volume 2 and Volume 3 of index cards have been released. VTT assets have been added to the ICRPG core pack. He has released ICRPG Worlds which details three settings: Sci-Fi(Warp Shell), Fantasy(Alfheim) and a Weird West(Ghost Mountain). Just recently he even released a system agnostic set of characters with complete art called Heroes of the Hammer.

And now he has released ICRPG 2E. I haven't even had a chance to look through this book yet, but I wanted to post something about this awesome independent creator. Today we drink to your continued success!