Your Money or your Life!

The Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure campaigns at Indiegogo are now live! 19 adventures by really famous RPG blokes, such as Vincent Baker, Monte Cook, and Richard Pett. Also, adventures by people no one has ever heard about, such as Yours Truly!

Here’s the final lineup, in alphabetical order by author:

Escaping Leviathan by Aeron Alfrey
The Seclusium of Orphone by Vincent Baker (art by Cynthia Sheppard)
Strange and Sinister Shores by Johnathan Bingham
Towers Two by Dave Brockie
The Unbegotten Citadel by Monte Cook (art by Eric Lofgren)
The House of Bone and Amber by Kevin Crawford (art by Earl Geier)
Of Unknown Provenance by Michael Curtis (art by Amos Orion Sterns)
Machinations of the Space Princess by James Desborough (art by Satine Phoenix)
Horror Among Thieves by Kelvin Green
We Who Are Lost by Anna Kreider
The Land that Exuded Evil by Cynthia Celeste Miller (art by Rowena Aitken)
Pyre by Richard Pett (art by Michael Syrigos)
I Hate Myself for What I Must Do by Mike Pohjola (art by Joel Sammallahti)
Broodmother Sky Fortress by Jeff Rients (art by Stuart Robertson)
Normal for Norfolk by Juhani Seppälä (art by Rich Longmore)
Poor Blighters by Jeff and Joel Sparks (art by Mark Allen)
The Depths of Paranoia by Jennifer Steen (art by Jason Rainville)
Red in Beak and Claw by Jukka Särkijärvi (art by Jason Rainville)
The Dreaming Plague by Ville “Burger” Vuorela (art by Juha Makkonen)

Teasers for the adventures and bios for the talent and more info on the campaigns can be found here.

Time to pony up for some old school fantasy excellence!

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Type III D&D + Old School sensibilities equals what?

This awesome lizardman illustration has nothing at all to do with this article.

I recently started (and ended) a very short-lived RPG campaign with the stated goal of using Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG rules set, and Paizo’s Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path, but with the rules mechanics pared down to resemble earlier versions of D&D, and with the Old School no-nonsense sensibilities of gaming style, e.g. lethality, rulings not rules, no battle mat, rolled attributes straight down the line, only four character classes and three races, considerably less skill points, slower feat progression, no easy access to healing magic, and no resurrection of any kind. An ambitious rules hack to be sure, and an interesting experiment on the compatibility of, in my opinion, two very different rules sets and the gaming styles derived thereof.

To start of, let me state that I’m strongly of the opinion, that rules sets are never just “the rules” and thus separate from the game world and what the actual game is like, but always strongly connected, e.g. the rules describe the metaphysics of the game world, and thus form the meta-culture of the way the game is played as a whole. You cannot separate the two more than you could use a spoon to extract oxygen from water.

The gaming group I had consisted of two players with a wide range of experience with different editions of D&D, including Mentzer D&D, AD&D, Pathfinder, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess; a player who had only played LotFP before this; and two players who had only played WotC 3.5./Pathfinder. The characters were created at the start of the first game session. We ended up with a fighter, two clerics, a rogue and a wizard, e.g. all four available classes represented.

Right off the bat we ran into some group dynamic problems, when one of the PF-players concocted an rather convoluted character backstory, which was soon revealed to the other players, but not the other characters. This is for for the most part fine when playing some more modern RPG’s, but for an old school style game, it just doesn’t work, as the intent is that first level characters aren’t supposed to really have complex backstories (“Character background is what happens during levels 1-4” -G.Gygax), and also, in old school play, the line between player and character knowledge is so blurred it might as well be non-existent. The backstory had other problems as well (for one, the character was the cleric of an evil deity), but these problems have little to do with the topic of this post.

It soon became apparent, that there would be problems in more than one area. For one, the players who were only familiar with Type III were in no way prepared for how lethal combat becomes, when the characters aren’t superheroes anymore. Instead (as typical of Type III play), then met dangers head on with the expectation, that of course the challenge would be level-appropriate, thus providing a safe and sanitized moment of heroics, that would at most drain some consumable resources. Not so in old school, though. A few character deaths later, and they were starting to pay more attention to the fact, that the best way to survive is to avoid fighting, and if things start to look grim, its time to run. One also needs to realize, that sometimes not even the best preparations in the world will save characters from totally random death by trap or poison. This is also a feature (not a bug, mind you) not really present in Type III, but there in abundance in old school play.

An unexpected development from the rules changes was this: Since a lot of the combat rules and of course the battle mat of Type III wasn’t used, a lot more of what was actually happening in the game rested on so-called GM fiat. The actions of players had become decidedly less important than the description provided by the GM. This is something I’ve become very familiar with when running White Wolf games, where the system itself doesn’t tell you much of what’s happening. For White Wolf games, however, that’s perfectly OK, since the emphasis is supposed to be storytelling, not conflict resolution. In old school games, however, it most definitely isn’t OK, since the GM is supposed to be an impartial referee who just sets the challenges, rolls the dice, and lets them fall where they may. In fact, that particular trait of storytelling games is one of the main reasons why I started to gravitate away from them towards the OSR some years ago. Why was this happening, though?

I came to this conclusion: Since a pared down, or “vague” rules-system (such as Storyteller and my chopped up Pathfinder) sets a framework that tells you what the rules are like, without providing the actual nitty-gritty on how it actually works, the blanks (e.g. setting appropriate challenges and moderating troublespots) are left for the GM to fill. In my experience, this doesn’t really happen with either Pathfinder proper or with old school games. I think I need to ponder on this some more, though.

In conclusion, the experiment was successful in proving that a proper merger of two game systems so dissimilar is impossible without sacrificing some of the traits that are essential to actually making said game systems what they are. Pathfinder is fine if you want to run a system-heavy heroic game, with an incredibly detailed combat system, and old school style games work the best when using an old school style rules system. Oh, and of course Storyteller (briefly mentioned) is just fine if you don’t care about system at all, and would rather concentrate on co-operative storytelling.

Did I learn anything? Maybe. Next up, something completely different.

Lamentations of the Whispering Tyrant II

Since my last update on the topic at hand, the Ustalav campaign, my experiment in combining old school rules with new school adventuring material, has progressed rather nicely. We’ve managed a total of nine game sessions on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. I originally intended to have four players in the group, but as one of my intended players never managed to make it to a game session, we’ve had to make do with just three.

Here’s a brief recap of the first two game sessions:

Session 1: The characters’ carriage breakes down en route to the town of Ravengro, and they are forced to seek shelter from the ghastly weather. A weird old tosser living alone in a small house on a hill reluctantly agrees to grant them lodging.

In the darkness of the night, the restless dead rise from their graves, and come demanding their pound of flesh from the old tosser. The characters do their best to fend off the skeletal horde, but are eventually forced to ditch the old man, and make for the tunnel entrance under the house. The tunnel leads down into an old crypt, where the PC get to fight some more skeletons. They also manage to score some loot.

This game session was intended as an introduction to the rules, and the intended mood of the game. Worked out rather nicely, I’d say. The one-liner back story about the old man and the restless dead was nicked from an old issue of Creepy.

Session 2: The characters arrive in Ravengro, stock up on supplies, and head back to the old crypt. They get to fight some more skeletons, and manage to make it out alive, their packs filled to capacity with loot. Back in Ravengro, the town Sheriff grows a bit suspicious about this group of outsiders leaving for a day, and returning wounded and battered carrying heavy burdens. The sheriff’s investigation is cut short (heh, heh), as a ghostly horseman decapitates him while he’s wandering about on the moors.

The Headless Horseman is another classic of early horror literature, and deserves a place in a campaign such as this. The townies growing suspicious of the adventurers, however, is something rather rarely seen in D&D-type play, but it was well received by the players, who had a blast trying to cover up their grave robbing activities.

As evident to those familiar with Paizo’s Carrion Crown Pathfinder Adventure Path, the players have so far not even gotten to the actual contents of said adventure path. Not to worry, though. Old School play has a tendency to drag on a fair bit longer than the quite a bit more combat-intensive type III D&D the adventure path was originally written for. By my estimate it will take the group about 20 game sessions just to make it through the first book of the series. I’m, however, in no hurry whatsoever.

More on the rest of the game sessions later!

Into the Caverns of Thracia

I recently started playing in an OD&D-style campaign based on the classic Judges Guild module The Caverns of Thracia. The rules system used is Autarch’s Adventurer Conqueror King System. The referee has a blog of his own describing the two game sessions played so far (sessions 1 and 2), so I won’t go into much detail about the actual games here. Go read Demos’ blog, though. He writes well, and is a rather prolific writer on all things RPG.

Let me tell you about my charact…

This one time we came across a pack of…

Fuck it. Go read what Demos has to say about it. Me, I’m having a blast just playing for once.

Lamentations of the Whispering Tyrant

For a long time now, my two main interests in role-playing have been Old School games (mainly Lamentations of the Flame Princess), and “new school” fantasy role-playing (D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder RPG). I’ve participated in over 50 game sessions of each in the past few years, and have more than a passing familiarity with both game systems and play-styles. Both of these games have their roots in Dungeons & Dragons, but are nevertheless fundamentally different on almost every level. The only thing they seem to have in common is that both claim to be D&D, and both are fantasy role-playing games.

Each of these games provide something the other does not. Old school gives me easy, flexible rules, a free-form type of play, an emphasis on player skill and ingenuity, and a focus on exploration and investigation. New school gives me a robust game system, that appeals to the gamist in me, and a wealth of enticing campaign world and story material.

And so, after some brainstorming and research, I’ve decided to try and combine elements of both games into one campaign. The new campaign is going to be called Ustalav. It uses the LotFP rules, and old school sensibilities in play-style. Pathfinder RPG provides the story fodder in the form of the Carrion Crown Adventure Path, a new school mega-adventure about the gothic horror -themed nation of Ustalav in Paizo’s campaign world Golarion. The adventure path spans six books, for a total of around 300 pages of gaming material. Considering the relatively slow pace of old school campaigns, this campaign has the potential to last years.

Lets see how it turns out shall we.

Edit: An earlier post I wrote has relevance the topic of this one. For anyone interested in the topic, it might be worth checking out: D&D 3.5 Mega-Adventures Old School Style.

The Witchfinders – Story arc conclusion

After a few hours of careful planning, the party finally enters the dungeon beneath the Baron’s castle. They explore about a dozen rooms and corridors, come across venom-spitting, snake-men, mind-controlling snake-men, and crablike skittering horrors. Hilariousness ensues when they need to wash some venom out of a blinded party member’s eyes, and after giving their character sheets the once over, they realize no one is carrying a waterskin. Not a drop of fresh water anywhere. Someone asks “Um, so what if I just spit in your eye.”

Everyone cracks up. Other alternatives to fresh water or spitting are proposed, and somehow this degenerates into Jim asking his wife (who came home at around this time) “If someone has snake-venom in their eyes, and we’d need to wash it out by peeing into her eye, would it be possible for her to contract syphilis?”

In hindsight, not a high point of comedy. But it was funny for a few minutes.

After a short break we got back to the business of serious role-playing.

During the previous session I had struggled a bit coming up with meaningful (e.g. not stupid) things for the NPC’s to say. So this time I had actually taken a few minutes to write down a few lines of dialogue, most of which I ripped off from a movie running on the telly at the same time. This dialogue was intended for the main villainess of the piece, and contained a lot of exposition on different unresolved issues in the campaign so far.

I needn’t have worried. About a couple of sentences of diatribe, the party goes “Screw this, lets just kill her and be over with it!”

The party is soon overwhelmed. One goes down, then another. A third party member decides to leg it with his henchman. One more goes down, at which point the main villain’s right hand man gets cocky, tries to take the last remaining player character alive, and gets a mace to the face.

To make a long story short, the PC gets mind controlled, and is sent on an errand. She runs across the party member who ran away earlier, who pretty much immediately notices something’s awry, and knocks the mind controlled PC unconscious. He then loads her up in a wheelbarrow with all of the loot, and makes for the open road. Witchingham be damned!

As it is extremely unlikely, that the party will ever be in the position to ever get to hear the villainess’ complete monologue, here it is reproduced in its entirety.

”Greetings, brave souls. Have you come to receive my blessings? No? Very well, then. What do you seek? Treasure? There is plenty here, free for the taking. Please, you have my permission. I have no need for it. After all, you deserve a reward for all that you have done. You freed me from captivity, and proceeded to systematically rid me of my enemies. I am deeply grateful. That fool of a baron Rupert, his halfwit son Christpher, that blowhard Godfrey, and the rest of those poor, misled wretches. Many thanks to you.”

”Oh, you wouldn’t by any chance know the whereabouts of that whore Genevieve? She and I still have a bone to pick. You wouldn’t be hiding her by any chance? Bring her to me, and I shall see to it that you are rewarded for that as well.”

”Do you know what I am? I am as close to a god as you people will ever witness in the flesh. I have been here since time immemorial. I was here when the Romans held sway. Such a wonderful people, the Romans. They knew how to indulge in the ways of the flesh. So unlike your own god nailed to a wooden cross, who locked up his brides in convents. Did they really enjoy themselves, hm? Poor little virgins masturbating in the dark. Then they repent for their sins indulging in flagellation until they wept tears of blood. Captive virgin whores of an impotent god.”

And yes, that dialogue rips off Ken Russell’s film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm, a great film, which every fan of campy horror should be familiar with. Not convinced yet? Then have a look at this screenshot from a scene where nuns are raped by Roman soldiers while a blue skinned heathen snake priestess oversees, and a huge, white worm is taking a bite out of the arm of some guy nailed to a cross.

The Witchfinders – The Story So Far

The Witchfinders campaign has now been running for about five game sessions. Out of the five original players three have lost their original characters, and have since made new ones. Jim’s Witchfinder Killbody got an axe to the head in the first game session, Mattias’ fighting-man Blackjack Davy was killed in a roadside ambush, and Corentin’s French midget was captured by the Baron’s guards, and hung the next day. The replacements are a Witchfinder called Pennycock, a drifter and sell-sword going by the name of Average Dan (and sometimes by the name of Spectacular Dan; a specialist), and Lancelot, a gallant swashbuckler. The scotsman McIre, and the zealot Pearl are the only ones remaining of the original party. We’ve also gotten a new player, a role-playing first-timer, who made a Magic-User. As fitting the tone of the game, the first-timer also got his first taste of character death, when his scholar got a pistol shot to the head near the end of the gaming session.

At this point I think it is safe to say that the campaign has been successful. It has been well received by the players, the rules work like a charm, the setting is intriguing, and some of the house rules, for instance the firearms rules we are using are working out fine, and add to the feel of the game rather than detracting from it.

Among other house rules I’ve employed is a modified (from the LotFP rules, that is) initiative, where every group, instead of every participant in a combat situation rolls for initiative, and the dexterity modifier acts as an individual tie-breaker. This means that if the party wins initiative, all of the party can act before any of the opposing party can act. It also means that Pearl the dexterous Specialist always acts before Pennycock the clumsy Witchfinder. I rather like this system myself, since I always felt that the calling out of numbers from six to one took away from the feel and description of battles. This way everyone knows when their turn is coming, and since they know when the enemy is going, they can actually coordinate the group’s activities, so that it feels more like these people know and trust each other, and can think out combat tactics on the fly.

The campaign started out with the party staying at a roadside, only to discover that the innkeeper, and his friends were murderous, cannibalistic thugs, who worshipped some kind of demon idol. The Witchfinder Killbody met his end at the inn, receiving a skull-cleaving blow to the head from an axe wielded by a homicidal maniac.

Coming to the town Witchingham, the party immediately decided, that the local baron is most likely somehow involved in all this demon-worshiping, witchcraft, cannibalism, and whatnot. Further investigations involved rumours of witches, ghosts, snake-oil salesmen, strange folk in dark robes, flying things with bat-like wings, fallen angels, cursed monks, disappearances, so on and so forth. There were so many rumours to investigate, that for the most part the players couldn’t make heads or tails of how to fit all of the pieces together.

By the third session the party had decided, that there were most likely a cult at work here, and the roots of the cult lay either with the monks worshipping the fallen angel a few decades back, or with the baron’s dusky-skinned West-Indian wife. This all got turned topsy-turvy, when during a brawl with the Baron’s guards, the guard captain Alistair seemingly lost control, flashed snakelike eyes, and spit poison in the eyes of a party member. After a brief scuffle, the majority of the party found themselves behind lock and key in the Baron’s dungeon.

Finding an escape rout from the dungeon in the form of a secret passage, the party came across something monstrous living in the sewer system beneath the Baron’s keep. The barely manage to escape with their lives. The party seeks refuge in the town, only to come across more horror and evidence of depravity. At the end of the game session they decide to retreat into the woods, where the Baron’s son (supposedly a nitwit) has taken refuge with a small group of men loyal to himself.

The next session sees the group make plans on ridding the barony of Witchingham of the evil that has infested both the village, and the keep. The party decides on a two-pronged attack, where the Baron’s son Christopher leads his men into the keep through a secret passage, and occupies the guards, while the player characters go in through the sewer entrance discovered earlier. The two attacking forces will meet up “in the middle”, and go from there.

The plan seems sound, but still almost manages to get derailed, when the player characters come across a third party making byways into the keep. This third party is evidently linked to the men encountered at the inn (game session one), and it seems they also have some kind of grudge against the poor Baron (at this time suspected by the players dead or incarcerated by his own men)

Furious room to room fighting breaks out in several parts of the keep. The fighting culminates in the throne room, where the last of the Baron’s men, and the third attacking force meet grizzly ends at ends of the swords of Christopher’s men and player characters. In the aftermath, Christopher turns coat, and tries to kill the party, almost succeeding in killing off Pearl. Christopher flees into the dungeon beneath the castle, where he hides out while the pursuing player characters come across inhuman robed things, scuttling crablike monstrosities, and devilish traps. Christopher is finally caught trying to sneak out the back way. He fires a shot with his pistol, that ends the life of yet another player character, but is cornered by the Witchfinder Pennycock. Pennycock goes down fighting, and for a moment it looks like Christopher is going to make his escape, when a tentacled monstrosity reaches out of a hidden pool, grabs Christopher and rips him in pieces.

The party decides this beastie is too much to tackle in one go, and retreat to lick their wounds.

Next game this Sunday.