The Witchfinders – Character Classes

The demi-human classes have already been discussed in a previous post, so this post will deal with the remaining four classes.

The Cleric

The Cleric in this setting is typically, (and not too surprisingly) a Witchfinder, e.g. a man of the cloth who’s purpose in life is to seek out and destroy witches, warlocks, demons, vampires, etc. The Van Helsing type characters of old Hammer movies make for excellent clerics. Of course, a cleric might also be a more traditional priest or monk, if the player so desires.

The Fighter

The Fighter is pretty much what it is in other settings, e.g. someone proficient in fighting and warfare. What might be of importance in this setting is a fighter’s allegiance, that is, on who’s side is he or has he been fighting, and does he still hold some allegiances to one of the parties of the civil war.

The Magic-User

The big question mark in a campaign seemingly geared towards hunting witches to extinction would obviously be the Magic-User class. The Magic-User taps the raw forces of chaos, harnessing the building blocks of the universe. Thus, as per the LotFP rules, all Magic-Users are of Chaotic alignment. The method of harnessing, however, differs from individual Magic-User to other. There are those who seek out otherwordly beings, and perhaps even worships them. These would be the classical devil-worshiping witches and warlocks. There are those who commune with forces other than the Christian god, and find power in places, objects, and creatures both mundane and otherwordly. There are the scientists and doctors who meddle with alchemy, and sciences most people today would consider ludicrous.

Any of these types of Magic-Users risk the wrath of superstitious mobs or zealous Witchfinders, and so they are forced to practise their respective crafts in secret, behind closed doors, or far away from population centers.

Needless to say, a zealous Witchfinder, and a Magic-User who openly flaunts his talent in the same player character party is an ignited powder-keg waiting to explode, and probably best avoided altogether. The same goes for the Elf.

The Specialist

The Specialist can be pretty much anything. The class is customizable enough to emulate any kind of, well, specialist, be it a thief, a grave robber, a scout, a spy, an assassin, a scribe, an interpreter, a wilderness guide, or what have you. The Specialist is what the player makes of him.

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The Witchfinders – Setting

England, the autumn of 1645.

The country has been at civil war for the past three years. The warring parties are the Parliamentarians (Roundheads), and the Royalists (Cavaliers). The specifics of the battles and the politics involved aren’t that important, but if you want to know more, click here.

England has also been involved in Continental Europe, where war has raged for the better part of three decades. More about that here. However, since the start of the ongoing conflict between King Charles I and Parliament, England has pretty much withdrawn from the European theatres of war.

Suffice to say, most English fighting-men are likely to have had their fair share of wars, both against the French, and on domestic soil.

Religion is a big deal in this era’s England. Even though the root of the civil war is basically political (e.g. about the power of the King versus that of Parliament), one of the underlying themes was religion. The Church of England was still a relatively new institution, and many of Parliamentarians were protestant fundamentalist, who were mightily offended by the King marrying a Catholic foreigner. The rise of the puritan ethos would eventually lead to the establishment of a puritan England, and the nigh total abolishment of Catholicism.

One of the side-effects of this religious conflict was the renewal of witch-hunts across the country; Warfare, and the resulting poverty, famine, and disease were fertile ground for fundamentalist religious ideas. The Devil and his witches were easy to placate as scape-goats, as were pretty much any who were not of similar, puritan ilk (Catholics, Jews, foreigners, university students and professors, what have you). The Witchfinders of this era ranged from the pious and the devout clergy, to the more profane magistrates and judges. One also needs to bear in mind, that since the existence of Witchcraft, Devil-Worship, Demonology, etc. were a well-known fact, and not just superstition, Witchcraft was a matter of secular, not religious law. And of course (man being man), there were among the Witchfinders those, that had no interest whatsoever in saving the Souls of Men and Battling the Forces of Evil, as much as pure personal gain, money, and power. More on early modern era witch-hunts here.

It is possible to create a character, who isn’t human. However, the elves, dwarves, and halflings of this setting aren’t your usual fantasy staples. Also, they are much rarer than in most other fantasy settings. Here are some ideas about incorporating demi-humans into the setting:

  • Dwarves are a race of humans. They are degenerate hill-folk, possibly of pictish stock, who live in the northernmost parts of the country. These “dwarves” are shorter than your average anglo-saxon, but not dwarf-short. Rather they average at around 5′, have swarthy skin, heavy brows, sloping heads, thick limbs, bow-legs, and are covered in coarse, black hair. Beard is common, but not universal. These people are commonly referred to as picts, hill-folk, or hill-men.
  • Halflings are also humans, albeit not an ethnicity as much as humans suffering from one of several medical disorders, that cause dwarfism. Halflings in this setting are commonly referred to as midgets.
  • Elves are essentially humans, who have been touched by the wyrd. They might have the blood of something supernatural coursing through their veins, or they might have been raised someplace, where the chaotic energies of the wyld places have been particularly strong. People who might be called “gifted”, or who’d be described as “elfin”, “fey-like”, or “waif-like” are common examples of the elves of this setting. True elves, e.g. the faerie are much too alien to be player characters. Elves are commonly targeted for witch-hunts, so one might be advised not to flaunt their magical knacks or otherwordly nature openly, especially not in the presence of pious witch-finders.
  • I’m planning on setting the starting point of the campaign somewhere in Norfolk. It is a large, and rather sparsely populated county in the east of England, commonly considered a rural backwater populated by simple country bumpkins. Even today, there is a (possibly allegorical) saying among the medical professionals in England: Normal for Norfolk. It is a derogatory term describing someone of low intellect or mental deficiency.

    When reading these posts one needs to bear in mind, that the goal is to create a setting for Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, not 100% historical accuracy. Therefore, some simplifications have and will be done. In other words, I don’t care if the the King really got his arse handed to him at the Battle of Bollocks. The civil war, the religious strife, and all that josh is just the backdrop. What’s of greater importance is what the Players do, and how historical events, places, and persons would make the greatest contribution to telling Weird Fantasy stories set in this era.

    To my players possibly reading this blog: What kind of stuff would you like me to write about next?

    The Chaos Space Marine conundrum

    Since I last did a major update on my Red Corsairs Chaos Space Marines I’ve managed to play quite a few games, and try a lot of different army compositions and unit types. My game tally is about average. I win some games, but I tie far more, and lose about half of my games. I especially struggle against Imperial Guard (who I can’t match in firepower), and Space Wolves (who I can’t match in close combat prowess, nor sheer cost effectiveness across the board). I’ve tried including an even mix of interesting and effective army build choices in my lists, but the more games I lose, the more the lists tend to start leaning towards the more optimized builds. I’m not quite there yet, but I will eventually get to the point where the CSM army I’m fielding is a carbon copy of the so-called CSM standard tournament build.

    Why is this? The short of it is the Codex is underpowered, the units are for the most part overpriced, and there really aren’t that many interesting choices in the Codex to begin with. The book is also four years old, and it is really starting to show its age, especially when compared to any of the codices released after the release of the fifth edition of the core rules. The picture above is only a half-truth in the sense, that of course evil is always cooler, but Chaos Space Marines are not even playing in the same ball park as regular Space Marines, Space Wolves or Blood Angels. Of course this is all old news to anyone who knows anything about the current state of competitive play. Even the infamous double lash prince -build, once much reviled, is now just a sad relic of a different edition and style of play.

    Anyway, to get to the point, since stating the obvious and whining about getting the short end of the stick makes for poor blog content, lets have a look at what the CSM have going for them. This post is just the first in a short series, so bear with me. This time I’ll have a look at the Chaos Space Marine HQ choices.

    HQ

    Not counting the special characters (who for the most part are crap anyway), the budding CSM general has three types to choose from: The Chaos Space Marine Lord, The Chaos Sorcerer, and the Daemon Prince.

    Out of these the Lord is arguably the worst, since he doesn’t really deliver much bang for buck. The argument could be made, that giving him wings gives him good mobility since wings, unlike a jump pack, can fit inside a Rhino. I suppose he’d be at his best when facing shooty enemy infantry in melee, but even for that he is just too expensive, and since he doesn’t have an invulnerable save, he won’t last very long. Oh, if you were thinking about taking Daemon Weapon, stop it. Immediately. Really, really not worth it at all. If you really have your heart set on a killy Chaos Space Marine Lord, however, take Khârn the Betrayer, and make sure you stay the fuck away from your own troops with him.

    The Chaos Sorcerer is a slight step up, since he can use his psychic power (Lash of Submission is really the only one worth considering) from inside a Rhino. You could also experiment with a Sorcerer on a bike joining a unit of Chaos Space Marine Bikers, but this build isn’t really viable in point costs under 2000.

    The one HQ choice that stands head and shoulders (literally) above the others is the Daemon Prince. He is decently killy in close combat if you equip him with Wings, Warptime, and Mark of Nurgle, but the more common build of Wings, Mark of Slaanesh, and Lash of Submission is a far more attractive choice. Despite the prevalence of amour in today’s competitive play, a Prince with Lash still gives you a very versatile tool for battlefield control. Wanna move those stuck-in orks off an objective? No problem. How about bunching up those pesky Nob Bikers for a salvo of Plasma from your Obliterators? Can do. Worried about that Lone Wolf about to trounce up your whole battle line? Give him a taste of the Lash, and it will take him that much longer to reach any place where he can do any damage. Obviously the Daemon Prince is a magnet for heavy weapons fire, but you need to remember that every lascannon shot aimed at the Daemon Prince is one less shot busting up your Rhinos. In fact, since the Daemon Prince is just that good, you’d better take two of them.

    Next up, Elite choices.

    The Witchfinders – The Basics

    Here’s the basic rules and setting outline for the campaign:

  • Unless otherwise noted, the LotFP rules set applies.
  • There is going to be firearms. And chainmail armor is pretty much obsolete because of it. We’re trying out Jim’s upcoming firearms rules set.
  • Since shields have fallen out of style, carrying a light off-hand weapon gives the same bonus to AC in melee as a shield would. A light off-hand weapon might be a dagger, a maine gauche, a hatchet, a sword-breaker, a torch, a stool, a wrapped up cloak, or anything else that might fit the genre.
  • Initiative works like this: Every party involved rolls a die. Usually a die for the party, and a die for the enemy. On a tie, the players’ party are the winners. After determining which party is faster, the loser declares actions. Then the winner declares actions and acts, individual order decided by dexterity modifier. Then the loser acts, again individual order decided by dexterity modifier. Actions go off in this order: Movement, Magic, Ranged Attacks, Melee Attacks. Actions not specifically noted as being within these categories go off last. The order of action types trumps the order determined by dexterity.
  • Taking some time to clean and bandage wounds gives one hit point back instantly. This only works once per after combat phase. NOT bandaging wounds might mean the wounds continue bleeding, get infected, or some other unpleasantness.
  • Being Witchfinders does NOT mean there needs to be a cleric or clerics in the party. Neither does it mean you can go all Spanish Inquisition on Everyone You Meet. Do that, and I guarantee someone WILL slap you down. Don’t believe me? Go check out the ending of that movie where Vincent Price plays Matthew Hopkins, The Witchfinder General. Anyway, holier-than-thou clerics are boring as shit.
  • Regarding the setting: This is not Ye Merry Old England. This is 17th Century Weird Fantasy England. The Owls are not what they Seem.
  • You are NOT allowed to trump the referee with your superior knowledge of real world history.
  • You ARE allowed to do anything and go anywhere in the world. Wanna go fight a war on the continent? How about a expedition to Darkest Africa? How about the New World? You can do any of those things. Witchfinders in Civil War era England is just the starting point. Be advised, however, that you might wanna give the referee the heads up before going off the painted areas of the map, so that there will be something interesting for you to do when you get to where you were going.
  • That’s it off the top of my head. I’ll add to the list if I come up with anything else. I now have three interested players (Jim, Mattias, and Juho). I’m still waiting for a few people to reply, but looks like The Game Is a Go!

    The Witchfinders

    It is the Year of Our Lord 1645. England has been at civil war for the past three years. The land is in turmoil. Scarcely a single village has managed to remain untouched by war, famine, disease, or death, as Royalist, and Parliamentarian troops are roaming the countryside, as are bands of vigilantes called Clubmen, deserters turned to highway robbery, and refugees rendered homeless by the flames of war.

    And then there are the Witchfinders; magistrates, and clergymen devoted to the task of cleansing England of Witchcraft, Deviltry, and Demon-worship.

    Some of them are exactly that; pious men true to their calling, who fight to keep the forces of Darkness at bay. Others… not much more than charlatans motivated by personal gain. Nevertheless, they are given free reign to roam the land, whereas most common folk are bound to their homesteads by happenstance or law.

    Now the question remains: What kind of Witchfinders will you become?

    The Withcfinders is a Lamentations of the Flame Princess English
    language tabletop role-playing campaign, which aims to get started
    sometime in April. I’m looking for 3-5 players available to play on
    Sundays weekly or bi-weekly. The where is still undecided, but will be
    either in Helsinki or Espoo.

    Interested parties may apply.

    Jarnheim – Visualization

    Tabletop role-playing isn’t a visual medium at all. Rather it relies on the description by the referee, the artwork provided in gaming books, pictorial references to similar periods in actual history, and a hodge-podge of imagery from a variety of other sources. Obviously visualization is important, since it grounds the narrative, and provides a frame of reference for the gaming group. So how does one go about creating the visual backdrop for a campaign?

    There are numerous methods. What I usually do is swipe images (art or photos) off the internet, and hope the images push the right buttons in the players’ minds, or I use real-life examples when describing scenes, and hope the real thing doesn’t encroach too much on the fantasy world. This time I’m doing a bit of both. The art on the Jarnheim-related blog posts is mostly off Black Metal album covers, and depict mostly dark forests and snow. I want to convey a Nordic type of wintery darkness, and perhaps some of the imagery evoked by some of the fantasy-slash-norsemyth -inspired Black Metal bands. I’m steering clear of definite viking imagery however, as the setting is not going to be viking period, and that particular imagery is just way too strong, and thus using pictures of axe-wielding raiders and longships would put the players in the wrong frame of mind. So, what DOES Jarnheim look like, exactly? I mean, besides the dark forests and the snow.

    The closest real world analogue for Jarnheim at the period when the game is set would probably be late medieval or early renaissance northern Europe, or the northernmost parts of continental Europe. The smaller settlements are much the same as they were back in the Middle Ages, but the larger settlements have a bourgeoise class of merchants and craftsmen. There is a class of clergy, who’re also quite influential and wealthy on a secular level, and among other things have a militant order of knights templars, who’s duties include the safeguarding of man’s soul against heresy, and the purging of witches. There’s still a hereditary nobility, but it is in the process of getting supplanted by the merchantile elite, and the powerful leaders of craftsmen’s guilds and the clergy.

    The City of Gjallarborg has narrow, cobbled streets. The houses are two to four stories high, and made either out of stone, clay and thatch, or wood. The city and most towns have walls made of either stone, or high ramparts made of earth and topped by wood. The traditional longhouses have long since given way to smaller, one family houses, but the longhouse style is still evident in public buildings such as indoor markets and guildhalls. Every town has a church, and many, such as Gjallarborg, have several. The Grand Cathedral of Gjallarborg is a marvel of architecture located on a high cliff overlooking the marina. The palace of the Sea Kings is adjacent to it, and build on several levels of wide plateaus carved into the sheer cliff face.

    The further down, and deeper inland one goes in the city, the smaller the streets get, the older the buildings, and the poorer the residents. This is where one of Gjallarborg’s less reputable neighbourhoods, the halfling ghetto known as Stuntytown lies. It is a lawless place, where no reputable man or woman dares set foot after nightfall, lest he was looking for action of a more unsavory variety, and even then he had better look after his purse.

    Can you picture any of those places yet? If yes, good. If no, I obviously have a lot more work to do.

    Why the OSR?

    This post is essentially a follow up on this comment on a previous post:

    Maybe if you told us what interests you in OSR stuff? You blogged about what it ISN’T, but what about what it IS?

    I remember your old post about looking for a sturdy adventure game, but I’m a bit lost trying to understand how OSR reaches this. To my untrained eye Raggi is doing essentially lovecraftian stuff (“touch it and you die”) and the rest of the bunch print 70′s D&D in different colored boxes. This most likely isn’t the truth, but as said, I’m having problem seeing what makes OSR so “real”, “genuine” or “inventive”. Care to help me out? Maybe that would also help you find like-minded players.

    I’ll start with one more ISN’T. The OSR isn’t just one specific thing, so it would be pointless for me to try and describe the whole of the OSR. Instead, I’ll take a stab at describing what specifically interests and appeals to me.

    First off, simplicity of design. The games I play have extremely light rules, that cover only the bare minimum of instances that might come up during a game session. Instead of hard rules, there are guidelines and rulings. This design creates a framework for the referee, which in no way constrains creativity. Also, no game time is taken up by the necessity to look up this or that esoteric rule in a huge 300 page tome. Granted, the downside to this lightness is the reliance on the authority of the referee. Then again, this is really only a downside if you don’t trust the judgement of your referee, and don’t communicate with the people you play with.

    Second, the freedom that stems not only from the looseness of the rules system but also from the assumed style of play and adventure design. The typical Old School adventure isn’t a series of encounters or scenes leading up to a pre-designed dramatic climax. Rather the story is what comes out of play, that is players interacting with the game world as presented by the referee. Again, there is a caveat. For this to work properly, the referee needs to prepare enough material beforehand to be prepared for any eventuality that might come up during play, or he needs to be able to improvise game content based on the material that’s already been established about the game world. Fortunately the OSR provides the referee with a lot of tools designed for these express purposes. The referee has a veritable buffet table of content to choose from, be it tables for anything from carousing to random happenings, or locations ready to be explored, or monsters, characters, magic items or anything else one can think of that can be dropped into any adventure on a moment’s notice. In a sense, this toolbox mentality even extends to the OSR adventures modules, which usually don’t have ready-made plots at all.

    Third, the old school material does not force a designer’s intent on the individual referee in the way that many newer settings and adventures do. The OSR designer is not an auteur, who’s work is sacrosanct, and to be used as is. Exactly the opposite in fact. The Old School method of using material written by someone else is adapt it, change it more to your liking, mine it for ideas, and basically do with it what you want. I realize I’m repeating myself here, but really, the Adventure is what happens at the table, NOT what is written in a book. I think this is one of the main stumbling blocks for people more familiar with stricter by-the-book play (Who look at the OSR stuff and go all “this is lame, this guy has no motivation, and that guy doesn’t even have a PROPER NAME, and this whole thing ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE”.), or for the people who’re into Forge stuff, which is very focused and specifically designed for ONE type of gaming experience (Who look at the OSR stuff, and immediately start looking for definite how-to guidelines on HOW to actually run the game, or how the designer intended the material to be used. I’ll give you a clue: It really does not matter what the designer was thinking when he wrote what he wrote. What matters is what you make of the material at your own gaming table.).

    That last point is really what drives the nail down. The OSR game is what happens at the table. It is what the referee makes of the material he is using, be it his own or someone else’s. It is what the players make of the material the referee presents them with. It is the interaction of all of the above in the situation that is a tabletop role-playing game session.

    That’s it in a nutshell, really.