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.

E Chuta!

This has been a really busy month. I haven’t had time to write about any of the things I was supposed to. So, instead of writing a proper post now, I’ll just settle for quick updates on various topics. Oh, and I do believe a skin change is in order. What do you think of this one?

Personal and professional

As some of you know, I’ve recently been promoted to Senior Store Manager in the mygamestore.fi gaming store chain. I’ve also moved from Tapiola to Katajanokka, and my place of work is now the Stadin Pelikauppa store in Kaisaniemi, instead of Tapiolan Pelikauppa in Tapiola. I’ve also taken on some new responsibilities in the chain, as in addition to managing the Stadi store, I’m also in charge of buying all of the miniatures, and boardgames related stock for the chain.

Wargaming

Wargaming is still going strong. My Red Corsairs Chaos Space Marines army totals at about 3000 points at the moment, and I think I’ve reached somewhat of a water mark with that army, as I pretty much have all of the units I’m ever going to use with this army using the current codex. The converted Chaos Space Marine Chosen squad still isn’t quite finished, as I still need to do some details on the Rhino, and the squad members. The fiery red tiger stripe camo pattern on the marines looks dead on, though, so I should really get them finished, and have some pictures taken.

My Warriors of Chaos army is at about 2000 points, and progress with these guys has been really slow. I made the mistake of taking part in a Warhammer Fantasy Battle tournament, and some bad experiences there made me pretty much lose interest in that particular game. It is quite unlikely I’ll ever dabble with the tournament side of WHFB ever again, as that game really REALLY doesn’t work very well in tournament play. As a beer and pretzels game it works just fine, however.

Role-Playing Games

I’m currently refereeing a Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing campaign, in which one of the players is Jim Raggi, the author of LotFP. The campaign is run in English, and after minor initial language difficulties, the campaign is now running quite smoothly. We’ve played three times so far, and I have the impression the players aren’t hating it, since they keep coming back for more.

I also ran a short Vampire: The Masquerade campaign a few months back, but that one didn’t last, since pretty much all of the players were very busy, and thus organizing regular game sessions was a real pain. I also found out, that if I’m going to run a regular game, it needs to be a weekly game, or I will lose my interest in it very quickly.

Star Wars

I’ve been a fan of Star Wars for as long as I can remember. My first contact with Star Wars was the original movie trilogy when it came out on VHS in the eighties, and the ensuing toy craze. I never had any of the original toys myself, as my parents thought they were too expensive. A childhood friend of mine had lots of them, though, including the Millennium Falcon, an X-Wing Fighter, and an AT-ST Walker.

Later on I kinda lost touch with Star Wars, only occasionally re-watching the movies when they were shown on TV. Then the new trilogy came, and man was I disappointed. What it did manage to do, however, was bring me back the old movies. It also opened my eyes to the Expanded Universe, which in my case meant the Dark Horse Comics, and the Star Wars role-playing game. Comics have always been one of my loves, and the Dark Horse comics were exactly what I’d loved about that original trilogy, and had missed about the new trilogy, e.g. swashbuckling space opera, with engaging storylines, and interesting characters. I’ve since invested quite a bit in Star Wars -related comics, and have quite a collection of them.

My other connection to Star Wars is through work. Stadin Pelikauppa is really big on Star Wars, having the largest selection of Star Wars related merchandise, collectibles, and vintage toys in the whole of Northern Europe. The 501th Nordic Garrison trooping in our stores is what brought me into contact with the NG in the first place.

And so, finally, after years of being a Star Wars enthusiast, I’ve decided to take that extra step into fandom, and have decided to make a Star Wars costume of my own, hoping for eventual 501st approval with it. My project is Count Dooku. I’ve already purchased the first part of my costume; the cloak clasps and chain. The next step is getting the lightsaber, the boots (from an army surplus store), and the actual uniform, for which I have enlisted the aid of a friend, who designs, and makes clothes professionally. She did the costumes for Iron Sky, so Dooku’s costume is going to be a cinch for her.

There you have it, recent hobby-related activities handily summarized. More on various topics later on, when I have more time to spare.

The Witchfinders – First Session notes

Just a few quick notes from today’s game session.

The characters created were:

  • Blackjack Davy (Fighter) – A mercenary sort, just in it for the money (and the free booze, and the occasional wench)
  • Hubert McIre (Specialist) – A Scotsman, and thus the butt of many a joke
  • Pearl (Specialist) – The daughter of a Witch, now a fanatical Witchfinder
  • Judge Killbody (Cleric) – An unscrupulous Witchfinder, whose career proved short
  • Theodule (Halfling) – A homicidal French midget with even fewer scruples
  • Marmaduke Pennycock (Cleric) – Poor Judge Killbody’s replacement

    The players’ notes (what I can make of them anyway):

  • Father Wilfred – The local pastor at Witchingham
  • Vicar Bertte – (I have no idea who this guy is)
  • Rupert, The Baron of Witchingham – The local Baron, a sickly old man, and a re-married widow
  • Christopher – The Baron’s son, a dimwit
  • Genevieve – The Baron’s mulatto wife from the West-Indies
  • Penny – A woman rescued from devil-worshiping cannibals
  • Doctor Godfrey – By all accounts a quack, and most likely linked to the above-mentioned cannibals
  • Captain Alistair – The Baron’s Guard Captain, who is rumored to be in relations with the Baron’s missis
  • Innkeeper R..? – (Another name I made up on the fly, and have now forgotten)
  • Something Wife-Witch – Possibly relates to rumors about the Baron’s wife
  • Theodore the Monk Accursed Something Something – Who’s ghost is rumored to haunt the Castle

    Rumors:

  • People have disappeared mysteriously.
  • Black-cloaked strangers roam the countryside.
  • The Baron’s wife is a witch.
  • A few decades ago, an angel fell down from the heavens at the side of the Baron’s castle.
  • Winged fiends have been spotted at night.
  • A snake-oil salesman was through these parts some time ago.
  • Those who bought the miracle medicine are the same who’ve since disappeared.
  • The Baron’s keep is build on a monastery, that was abandoned when the monks fell into devil-worship and debauchery.
  • The Guard Captain is in secret liaisons with the Baron’s wife.
  • The Baron’s son Christopher is a dimwit.

    Confirmed facts:

  • People have disappeared. They’ve possibly been kidnapped.
  • The Innkeeper of the Black Rooster wayside inn is not the same man, who until recently ran the inn.
  • The men at the Black Rooster were cannibals who murdered travelers staying at the inn. They worshipped a demon idol. One of the men matches the description of the snake-oil salesman.
  • One of the kidnapped women was held at the Black Rooster.
  • There is a secret passage which leads from the Black Rooster to a demon shrine.
  • The shrine at the Baron’s Keep has seen only little use, possibly only one regular visitor.
  • The Baron keeps a local man prisoner at the keep. The man is most likely innocent of witch-craft. He is, however, a drunk, and a blasphemer.
  • The Baron’s son Christopher is a dimwit.

    The game session had swashbuckling action, vile cannibal cultists, secret passages, demon idols, rumors of witches, kidnappings, ghosts, and winged devils (among other things), and the skull of a player character cleft in twain by a heinous villain. More on the actual goings on later. Stay tuned.

  • 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.

    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.