'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

Corrupt Cliffs

Corrupt Cliffs
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Places of Interest

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A First Impression of the Vaesen RPG by Free League



VAESEN: väsen n. supernatural being or creature.


Intro
Recently the Vaesen BETA rules were released to the backers of the Kickstarter project, and I wanted to write down some first thoughts on the book and game.  Like Tales from the Loop, the game itself comes from extremely evocative art.  Tales from the Loop takes it's setting from the Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, while the Vaesen RPG take's it's setting from the book of the Swedish artist Johan Egerkrans, Vaesen

Some people probably question basing games on the work of an artist, but some art is so distinctive and evocative that it immediately transports you to another world, and if that doesn't scream RPG, I do not know what does. In the case of Johan we are shown the creatures of Scandinavian Folklore: fairies, trolls, lindworms and everything in between. Which doesn't mean Johan hasn't drawn other fantastic works of art, he is just more well known for his creatures of myth and legend.

The Book

The current Beta rules have 232 pages including the character sheet and index. Roughly the first 100 pages are dedicated to the basic rules and character creation.  The basic rules will be familiar to anyone that has played a Year Zero Engine game. The remaining 100 pages are dedicated to setting, lore, how to set up an adventure, a sample adventure and of course the Vaesen themselves. All of this is interspersed with art from small sketches to full page color renditions of Johan's art.

I backed this game largely based on it being a Free League game, it having beautiful art, and the potential behind it.  I knew very little about what the game would be like beyond the kickstarter descriptions.  That is to say I knew it was going to be centered around fantastic creatures that were beyond the general persons's ability to perceive.  Judging from the art I could guess it would probably be late 1800s to the Early 1900s, generally the Victorian era.  From the book itself, "The idea is that you
and your friends will use it to tell – or play – mystery stories together in mythic Scandinavia of the nineteenth century."  Beyond that I didn't know what was in store for me.  

The Game

In Scandinavia of old there are creatures, faeries and trolls and such, that existed outside the perception of humanity, but were very real.  The people were aware of them through folk knowledge and knew how to make them happy, leaving offerings for them.  In return the beings were largely benevolent and lived in relative harmony with humanity.  

As humans advanced and industrialized much of this knowledge was lost.  People moved into towns and cities, and the rituals and offerings to the Vaesen were forgotten.  The Vaesen still exist and some have become less benevolent for various reasons, which the game lays out as adventure idea hooks with each of the Vaesen descriptions.  for example a wood based Vaesen might be wreaking havoc because of deforestation and logging.

You and your compatriots all have the ability to see the Vaesen and so stumble across an ancient society dedicated to fighting the Vaesen, and protecting humanity.  If you are playing in a campaign the Society and it's headquarters are more than just a part of the background and lore of the game, it is itself a character in the game. As the players grow in power and resources, they are able to add abilities to the Society that will grant them more ability to glean information about the Vaesen they are dealing with.

A secret society set in Victorian times isn't a new idea.  A secret society dedicated to fighting the supernatural isn't new either.  Still I think the idea the players can grow the Society back to it's former glory, which is in turn a usable resource for the players is a pretty cool idea to add to the campaign play.

Conclusion

Overall this book will be a beautiful addition to any RPG library and should delight fans of Free League and the Year Zero Engine.  It is full of amazing art and cool lore ready to open up a new world of Nordic horror for you and your players.  If you are a fan of monsters of the week, mysteries and the unknown, then I think this will make an excellent addition to your game library.  

If you are not part of the kickstarter look for this when it hits the shelves!

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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Tool Trunk Thursday: Stygian Beans

Another Thursday and more equipment is shoved into the tool trunk! Today's piece of equipment comes from the dark anbd mysterious lands of Stygian. This works perfectly with the launch of Conan the Adventurer, the sourcebook detailing Stygia and the Black Kingdoms.

Stygian Beans



These beans have been cultivated in Stygia since time immemorial. The shrubs they come from are picked of their bright red berries, and then the seeds are dried and roasted in great clay ovens. Finally the now dark beans are ground and hot water is poured over them. At this point the Stygian beverage is ready to be consumed.

It is said that those that wield magic prize this concoction for it's mind altering and restorative effects. 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!

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Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through proven methodology for fighting new a new virus. Stay Strong.

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

Monday, May 4, 2020

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells: The Flourish!

Welcome back! Today we are going to look at my first look at a house rule for Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells. If you have followed the blog for awhile you will know I am more of a fan of narrative results or success by measure vs simple pass/fail mechanics. I am also a fan of keeping math as simple as possible, in a basic D20 system, the simplest way is to have a concept something like what we see in Savage World with raises. In my opinion it works less well in a d20 system since that TN or DC is moving all the time.

Fortunately that is not how Sharp Swords works. As a role under system based on stats we can simply take our attribute and subtract 3 or 4 from them and assign a second threshold. So if your Physique score is 12, we can set a second value at 8. Rolling under 12 gives you a success, rolling under 8 gives you your success, plus some other benefits. If you are familiar with Conan 2d20, Year Zero Engine, Genesys, AGE or others you will know the basic idea I am going for. Below you can see what my character sheet looks like with the addition of the Flourish number.



From experience I know having too many choices can slow a game down, having 5 stunt points in an AGE system has the ability to slow things down as the players try and choose how to spend that currency. It was something I was wanting to avoid here since this is a rules light game. Solution? Rolling under the flourish allows a player to choose a single item from a Flourish list, this choice will still add a little time to a turn but I think the reward of having the player narrate how that flourish works will be worth it.

As the game progresses in level, hitting enemies will probably become easier, they will also probably become better armored and have more hit points. By the RAW your damage output doesn't really increase, the only exception to this might be magic. Either way if you encounter a creature with 6HD, and it ends up having 40+ hitpoints, doing 1d8 damage in a round or less depending is going to make the combat pretty boring IMHO. It will be a lot of players rolling to hit, and the monster rolling to miss. The creatures ability to do massive damage will be scary initially (2d6 in this example), but as the combat drags on I think it will grow dull. Flourish maneuvers like these will also hopefully make these combats quicker and more decisive. Now all of this is just a feeling, I haven't actually played this game at a high level.

Below is my initial list of Flourish options I have worked up for my Sharp Swords game.



My main goal in naming these to have the names be more than just mechanical. I wanted them to spark the imagination about what each one was doing. I didn't want it to be called "extra damage" and have players say ok. I roll an extra d4 damage. At the very least they are choosing "Mighty blow" and rolling that extra damage, which in and of itself is way more narrative.

Well the game is done and after utilizing this system I felt the general idea of it was pretty good, but using a simple subtract 4 from the ability score and making it a strict roll under made the flourish occur too often, which reduced it to a more mechanical effect than the larger narrative effect I had hoped for.

During the game a rule was highlighted that showed that this game isn't really a roll under your attribute mechanic, it is a roll under your attribute but close to it. So if your attribute is 13, 12 is a better roll than 2. The flourish system outlined above works against this.

Going forward, and staying in line with the idea of being close to your attribute, I might take the Flourish number and make it a range band. If your attribute is 14, and the Flourish is 10, activate a flourish on rolls of 10-14. This would reduce the number of times there was a flourish, which would hopefully make them a little more exciting for the players, and hopefully more narrative.

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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Tool Trunk Thursday: Leg Trap

Dog brothers, Sword sisters the minor cataclysm continues its relentless attack against humanity. Even if our physical world is not changed, that which we hold in our hearts and minds, surely will be. I hope everyone is doing well and being as creative as they can be in this time of strife. Stay strong. Stay Healthy. Keep it Weird.

Leg Trap



The ability to hunt animals in a passive way when foraging for food, allowing the hunter to attend to other things can mean the difference between life and death in the harsh wilderness of the Hyborian Age. These traps can be used to set up a trap line and gather food while a shelter is being built, or fire made.

These are simple devices that can be found across the world in various forms. The consist of a pressure plate and two spring loaded jaws that close violently around the leg of anything unlucky enough to step into their deadly grip.

An alternate use for these devices is to provide a level of security around a camp at night acting as a way to slow unwanted guests and alert the camp. Generally these devices require a D2 observation test to see, but this might be more difficult if the players take the time to disguise it. If someone is unlucky enough to step into one of these they suffer 3cd, Vicious 1, Grapple 3 damage. 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!

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Equipment icons are found on https://game-icons.net/ and are provided under CC BY 3.0.

Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through proven methodology for fighting new a new virus. Stay Strong.

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

Monday, April 27, 2020

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells: Let's Make a Character

One of the things that attracted me to "Sharp Swords and Sinister Spells" was its simplicity. Simple is good, especially when attracting new people to a game and genre. It allows us to jump in easily and not need to be constantly explaining rules and such to the players.

I am looking to use pre-gens for my one-shot I thought it would be good to go over the basics parts of the game. Character creation is a simple 5 step process, although I might add a step 0 or 1.5. I will explain as we go.

Step 1: Roll your 4 attributes.
We roll 3d6 in the order the attributes appear. No rolling 4 and keeping 3. No picking your order. Just a straight up 3d6 roll in attribute order.
  • Physique: 9
  • Agility: 11
  • Intellect: 12
  • Willpower: 10

Step 1.5: The character idea.
Most games I have played list this as a step, get an idea of a character you want to play in your mind. I would sometimes place this as step 0, but since our rolls are in order, it might be better to see what we get before coming up with the idea. It will do no good to want to play a Conan the Barbarian type character if you roll 5 on Physique and 8 on Agility. It is of course 100% fine to come up with this ideas as you go, with that character gaining life and depth with each decision you make.

For us we have two pretty decent stats in Agility and Intellect, or at least this is where our best stats are, lets see how this plays out for us.

Step 2: Choose an Archetype.
Based on our stats the best Archetype for us is going to be a Specialist. The thief, the rogue, the trickster.

Each archetype will give us our base type of HD and Luck dice as well as our special abilities.

Step 3: Choose a Vocation
This is the most open ended part of character creation. There isn't a list, you must simply decide what your character is based on the Archetype. Anytime you do an action related to your vocation you gain a positive die. If you are a Knight and need to test to ride a horse, you could gain a positive die here. If you are a thief and need to open a lock or find a trap, again you could gain a positive die.

This is perhaps the step that Step 1.5 relates to the most. For us we know we have a Specialist who is smarter than they are agile. Something like a rogue or thief would probably be ideal for this character.

Step 4: Determining a complication
This section presents some interesting ideas as well as some potential challenges, it deals with things the GM might use to make someones life difficult during the course of the game and includes addiction. Clearly if you do not know your players it might be best to stay away from that particular category when making this roll. It might be worthwhile having your players look through these and give them the option of "X"ing any particular category out that they personally feel uncomfortable with. This is a game and we are all at the table to have fun.

That being said my 2d6 roll for our character is 1.4, or Debt to a Crime Lord. This ties in nicely to our concept of a thief character.

Step 5: Buy Equipment Everyone starts with a basic set of clothes and a weapon appropriate to their vocation. For us that most likely means a short sword, which is a small weapon that does 1d4 damage. Beyond this everyone starts with 3d6x10 silver coins. Our roll gives us 90sc. Like many games we get a coinage multiplier, 90sc = 9gp or 900cc.

The first thing we will buy is some decent armor. Medium armor costs 50sc, leaving us with 40 for everything else....
  1. Medium Armor - 50sc
  2. Backpack - 2sc
  3. Torches(5) - 1cc
  4. Waterskin - 5cc
  5. Rations(7) - 7cc
  6. rope, 50' - 5cc
  7. Grappling hook - 1sc
  8. Flint & Steel - 2cc
  9. Thieves Tools - 30sc
Total 50+2+(1+5+7+5+2)+1sc+30sc=85sc

Not too bad. Pretty good load out for a fairly average roll.
But wait? What about encumbrance? It is super simple. You can carry a number of items equal to your Physique score without penalty. Beyond that we start getting penalized and we can carry a maximum of the Physique score x2. So we can carry 9 items. Bags and packs do not count towards this limit.

Finalize Your Character
So now we simply need to come up with a name, description and roll some Hit Points.

We got a 7 on our d8 hit die roll, which is pretty good! I can see a potential issue to this as an unmodified roll, a PC rolling 1 hit point isn't going to be much fun for most people. Although I don't think this is something unique to Sharp Swords.

For a name I popped over here and used the random name generator here: https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/hyborian-names.php, and came up with 'Talma'.

Finally we need to write this all onto a character sheet, and below we see the completed character sheet.


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Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through proven methodology for fighting new a new virus. Stay Strong.

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

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Tool Trunk Thursday: Mystic Pendant

Finally the warmth of spring have opened and forced the gods of the north from my lands once again. New life is everywhere, it is a glorious time! I hope today's delve into the tool trunk finds everyone well.

Mystic Pendant



People hold on to their beliefs to keep the darkness at bay. It often doesn’t matter if their beliefs are real or not, only that they give hope. That simple belief or trust that a pendant represents for the character is, at times, enough to bolster their courage as they face off against the horrors that lurk in the darkness of the Hyborian Age. 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!

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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!

Equipment icons are found on https://game-icons.net/ and are provided under CC BY 3.0.

Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through proven methodology for fighting new a new virus. Stay Strong.

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

Monday, April 20, 2020

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells: Intro & Quick Reference

Recently a member of the Conan Gaming Group, over on facebook, posted some materials to play a custom game of Monolith's Conan board game based around the 90s Cartoon, "Conan The Adventurer". I immediately chuckled and started to think of running an RPG scenario based on the cartoon.

If you have followed along here at all you may be aware I GM at a local convention here in Calgary Alberta, the RPG Alliance, and throughout the year various GMs run monthly sessions. With the current pandemic I thought this might be a perfect time to run this game and advertise it to the convention community. In keeping with the concept of what I wanted, a light fun sword & sorcery romp, I decided to stay away from the 2d20 system, as much as I enjoy it I didn't feel it fit the Saturday morning vibe.

As I continued to look through systems I found various ideas that I thought would work out well, many took ideas from FATE or similar systems, and while I think they have some great ideas, they had a little steeper learning curve. Not because they are complex, but because they are fairly different. My desire for a fun Saturday morning vibe shifted and my rules search shifted to a rules light Sword & Sorcery setting.

Enter "Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells" from Gallant Knight Games & Old Skull Publishing from Diogo Nogueira. It is billed as a rules light rpg with old school spirit and it came recommended from one of the Conan Gaming Group members so I thought I should give it a look. At the time of writing this it was even on sale for $5cad for the PDF, hard to go wrong with that price.

After having a quick look through the shortish rules I decided this system was simple and easy to learn, everything from combat to spell casting was incredibly easy to do. For new players this would be a breeze. I will give a more full review of the system after we play our game using it as our rules, but between now and then I thought I write a few articles about the mechanics and various things I have come up with for the game. So without further pre-amble, I give you the single page quick reference sheet.


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Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through proven methodology for fighting new a new virus. Stay Strong.

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