'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

Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Fiends: The Gibbering Darkness

Today I want to revisit a creature I came up awhile ago. The concept of this thing was a creature that would assail PCs in Conan 2d20 and cause a wound to a Character. Why would you do such a thing? Sometimes drama and tension can be increased when the PCs feel threatened and there are times when they simply don't in Conan because of how competent that they can be. A mob of these attacking in the deep ruins will generally use it's point of doom to attack first and most likely injure someone before being vanquished. I wouldn't recommend using something like this all the time, but everything in your toolbox has it's place.

The Gibbering Darkness


In the deep ruins of time immemorial there are places, rifts to some black place, where darkness seeps into our world as formless shapes, seeking the life energy of our existence like a wild predator seeks its prey.

The Gibbering Darkness is darkness made manifest, shifting shadows on the wall. Dark places in the corner of your eye. As easily as the dark is vanquished these creatures can be returned from which they came. Do not forget that like the darkness these hide things that are both physically and mentally deadly.

Many an naive adventurer has been reduced to lifeless husk, or worse a mindless husk, as unsuspecting they walked into a forgotten place and were assaulted by the dark mindless gibbering of these things.


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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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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Conan: Issue #1 (2019) "The Weird of the Crimson Witch"

January 2nd 2019! I trust everyone had an excellent holiday season! Today will be back to work for a lot of us, myself included. At least today there is a bright point.


That's right! Today MARVEL publishes there first title of the newly re-acquired Conan license from Dark Horse. I have been excited for this since it was announced, not because I dislike Dark Horse, but because Marvel and the History of the Barbarian in this modern age go hand in hand. I have been waiting to see what the company that gave us the Savage Sword of Conan would give us.

So I got up this morning, made coffee and eggs and fired up Comixology and had a read.

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Mahmud Asrar
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: VC's Travis Lanham
Cover Artist: Esar Ribic

I've seen the cover and I've seen some of Asrar's work over on Instagram, which I encourage you to go and check out.

I enjoyed all of the art in the book; the cover is great and the interior art is excellent. I have seen some reviewers make comment about weird arm angles and such, but I didn't have anything jump out at me. I even went back through looking for it and couldn't find anything seriously bad that jumped out at me.

I had a moment of doubt early on, that perhaps these guys didn't know their stuff. During a fight Conan says he prays to Crom. I thought to myself, "Yes Conan says Crom quite a bit in the comics, but as a curse more than praying. We all know Crom doesn't listen and it's better to not call his gaze upon you. So having a panel where Conan says he prays to Crom, left me uncertain. It is quickly followed by this panel:

YES! I am in. One of my favorite panels from the book. Great. As much as the cover and interior art are important for a comic book, without a story it isn't going to be much of a comic. There has been fear by a certain subset of the community that believe Marvel will be politically correct in their new iterations of Conan, so far this is absolutely not the case. This is a good Conan yarn, complete with fighting, women, wine and sorcery. I won't go into great detail about the actual story because I don't want to ruin it for you.

What I will say is that I liked it. The story has lots of action and I feel it moved pretty well. There are several nods to the '82 film, even if they were unintentional, and it ended with a cliff hanger and left me wanting more.

Art:

Story:

Cover:

Sword & Sorcery:


4.5 out of 5 Skulls of My Enemies!

Bring on Issue #2!

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Monday, December 24, 2018

Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles. First Look

I finally got my copy of Battlestar Galactica: Starship battles! You can check out my box opening here, BSG Box Opening, but don't worry it's quite short. This blog article is about my first impressions after opening the box and looking at the components. I am not looking to do a direct comparison with X-wing when I talk about this game, but it's hard to not bring it up play wise and component wise, simply because X-wing has been around awhile and I suspect most people reading this will be somewhat aware of it.

First Impressions

I had of course seen pictures of the box online, but this was my first time seeing it and holding it. It's outward basic form is that of most of the games of this type: Sails of Glory, Wings of Glory or X-wing. The little plastic window showed me their cool models, which did not disappoint. I also really liked the inside of the box having the phrase, "SO SAY WE ALL", across the box, one word on each side. Very cool.

Upon opening the box the first thing that made me chuckle was the books having their page edges cut off, just like all the paper we see in the TV show. It was a nice little touch. The insides of the box are nicely laid out with plenty of room for everything. I'll make a note that the cards all fit great when in plastic, but once open they are prone to no longer staying where they belong. This could be an issue with the maneuver decks, as you don't want them getting mixed up.

Models

Excellent. These models are beautiful. I expected that from Ares, as I had played Wings of Glory at a New Years Eve gathering some years ago. They are a little bigger than what we see in X-wing, but I am ok with that. Still I am happy to see them do justice to the Colonial Viper, down to call signs and markings. Very cool. The Cylon raiders are likewise excellent, and I am looking forward to the release of new ships, especially raiders from the original series.

This set comes with two Vipers and two Raiders, just as the windows shows. There isn't any other models in this box, but for $50, I wouldn't expect there to be.


Plastic components

In addition to plotting maneuvers in BSG:SSB, you have a plastic control panel allowing you to plan headings and speeds, as well as a few other things. This control panel is pretty cool and a nice way to track these parts of the game. Unfortunately these are a little stiff. (I'll note that they seem to have loosened up a little over time).

The game also comes, unsurprisingly, with plastic flight stands. These stands are different from what we see in X-wing and I found them to be a little more robust. They also have the ability to select heading, allowing ships to have a heading different than the direction of travel.

Cards

Like most games you get a selection of cards. Like X-wing these include ships and pilots. They also have a selection of cards to personalize your pilots with talents and flaws. Each ship also gets a maneuver deck which is used to plot movements and is the movement template itself, similar to the X-wing maneuver dial. All of the cards are nice, although apart from the ship cards, they are pretty small. The size is in line with the size of the ship add-on cards in X-wing. Downside I see here is the maneuver deck is a set of hexagonal cards. Sleeving them will be difficult.

Card Stock Components

You also get a series of card stock components with the game, basic tokens and range rulers. Nothing fancy here. Everything looks good and inline with the aesthetic of the game. The only standout is the asteroid fields, but it's because it's printed on thin card stock, more like a construction paper weight. They will work, but they aren't as nice as what was in X-wing. Of course I will suggest the game will be prettier with a series of asteroid models....



Dice

Although I appreciate people liking fancy dice, afterall it's more COOL DICE!, I am not generally as much of a fan. I like the concept of the dice in X-wing, as I like counting successes and fails rather than adding dice. However I dislike having to buy a certain die pack to get more. So depending on where you fall on this side of things you will either love or hate that BSG:SSB uses a simple set of 2d6.



Overall

It is a nice set. Fully worth the $52cad I picked it up for. Four excellent models, 4 plastic control panels and a plethora of cards and punch outs. My initial impressions of the components is easily......
4 out of 5 Skulls of my Enemies!

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Forgotten Creatures: The Dire Wolf.

The Dire Wolf


The dire wolf (Canis dirus, "fearsome dog") is an extinct species of the genus Canis. It is one of the most famous prehistoric carnivores in North America, along with its extinct competitor, the sabre-toothed cat Smilodon fatalis. The dire wolf lived in the Americas during the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene epochs (125,000–9,440 years ago). The species was named in 1858, four years after the first specimen had been found. Two subspecies are recognized, these being Canis dirus guildayi and Canis dirus dirus. The dire wolf probably evolved from Armbruster's wolf (Canis armbrusteri) in North America. The largest collection of its fossils has been obtained from the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, December 8). Dire wolf. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:56, December 20, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dire_wolf&oldid=872741641

We often see creatures taken out of time to populate the Hyborian Age. In Red Nails the dragon Conan defeats is described more like a dinosaur than the modern concept of a dragon. The core rulebook for the new 2d20 lists the Sabre-tooth cat, while the new release, "Horrors of the Hyborian Age", list creatures like cave bears and dire rhinoceros.

In actuality the size of the dire wolf and a regular wolf isn't that great, but this is the Hyborian age, so I think they should be scaled up to match the time.

Actual comparison of average sizes
Hyborian Age Sized

Canis Dirus (‬dire Wolf‭) Darren Pepper
http://www.prehistoric-wildlife.com/species/c/canis-dirus-dire-wolf.html

So I give to you my take on the dire wolf. A giant version of the wolves found within the pages of 2d20. This version is tougher, and can deal more damage than it's smaller cousins. It is simply more bad ass. Perhaps packs of these roam the frozen north of Nordheim or the vast steppe of Hyrkania. Either way a pack of these stalking your players should be enough to give them quite a challenge. I have included two versions of the dire wolf, a toughened version and the Alpha Dire Wolf.


I'll make note that I haven't had time to actually play test these yet, as I am building them for an upcoming adventure. If you do use them I would love to get feedback from how they worked out at your table. As always I love hearing from everyone, so if you have any feedback please drop me a note!

Until Next Time. Keep it Weird!

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!