About Me

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Tools of the Trade

I recently bought a new (well, refurbished actually) laptop for writing. I decided to try to use as much open source/free (not pirated) software as possible.  I use Scrivener, but that does require a one-time license purchase. I've installed LibreOffice, Inkscape, GIMP, and Scribus.

For those aren't familiar with the programs, they are free, open-source "versions" of Office, Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign respectively.

Hopefully, with a slightly more powerful machine than my 8 year old MacBook, I might actually post a few adventures online soon. Layout in programs like inDesign has never been my wheelhouse, so I am trying to learn Scribus now. (I have a passing familiarity with GIMP). For those who are interested, I recommend taking a look at this video.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I find it pretty darned cool that they are powerful programs like these out there for free to use with OGL games like Labyrinth Lord so it's that much easier to enjoy this hobby.

Friday, October 28, 2016


"Echoes" has been a bit quiet lately. Part of that is due to my not actively gaming for the last couple of months, and partly because I've been mucking about on another blog of mine that I started a while back for a more specific gaming purpose.

The Zarth Tourism Bureau is a pulp/swords & sorcery related blog mostly (but not entirely) about the new "Crypts & Things" game and things of that ilk.

This blog is still the home of more general FRPG nerdery.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Fantasy AGE Homebrew monster: The Sea Dragon

I've written about the Sea Dragon in BX before, but here's a version for Fantasy AGE:

Sea Dragons are an aquatic variant of their more famous cousins. While flightless and somewhat smaller on average than normal wyrms, sea dragons are still formidable opponents, especially in their element.

Sea dragons can breathe water or air. They suffer no ill effects from being on land, but they prefer the open water for maneuverability. They are intelligent and most speak at least one land-dweller language. Their cruelty and hunger makes conversations unlikely, though.

Sea dragons hoard treasure. While some will travel onto land to acquire it, most prefer to sink ships and take from the cargo once it slips beneath the waves. Many sea dragons make their lairs inside the hulls of sunken vessels. Sea dragons tend to prefer stretches of coastline instead of the open water. Perhaps the great ocean wyrms are too much of a risk.

A common tactic is for the beast to lie in wait below the surface until a ship passes overhead, then it bursts upward, destroying the rudder before clambering up onto the decks. Once aboard, the dragon smashes the masts and rigging as it breathes its poison on the crew. When the ship is helpless, the creature dives back into the water and shoves the ship onto the rocks. There it smashes the hull or lets the waves do it. 

ACC 2 (Bite)
CON 8 (Stamina)
FTG 4 (Claws, Tail Bash)
PER 1 (Seeing, Hearing)
STR 7 (Intimidation, Might)
WIL 4 (Courage)


6(15 swim) 120 12 7

Weapon Attack Roll Damage
Bite +4 2d6+7
Claw +6 1d6+7
Tail Bash +6 1d6+7

Mighty Blow (1SP), Tail Bash (2SP), Lethal Blow (4SP), Pierce Armor (1SP)

  • Large & in Charge
  • Buffet (minor)
  • Deadly (-1 SP Lethal Blow, Mighty Blow, and Pierce Armor)
  • Tough Hide (7 AR)
  • Aquatic
  • Breath Weapon: Twice a day, the sea dragon can breathe a toxic mist in a cloud 8 yards long and 4 yards wide. Anyone caught within the cloud must make a CON (Stamina) TN 15 roll to hold their breath or the poison slows and partially paralyzes them. Victims suffers a –3 penalty to Dexterity, Fighting, and Accuracy until the end of the encounter. The poison works underwater as well, but only on creatures breathing the water. For instance, a submerged PC using magic to breathe is affected, but one using a hollow reed is not.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Ahoy! (Nautical Adventuring in FAGE)

FAGE Ship to Ship (Pirates and sea serpents and storms, oh my!)

Ocean travel and its hazards are something that I've discussed on this blog quite often, albeit usually in terms of monsters. Many games include some rules for traveling and fighting on the water, but Fantasy AGE does not (yet). So, in an effort to fill a gap until some official rules appear, and to amuse myself by tinkering, here are some ideas about handling the perils of the deep in FAGE.

Most threats will either be a straight up combat or a hazard. This means the PCs (and possibly the NPC crew) will simply duke it out with some aquatic beastie or have to deal with things like a storm or shoaling reefs, etc. For the former, it's a combat. GMs will want to keep in mind things like damage to the ship or cargo (or minor NPCs). A lot of that might be handled narratively. The sea serpent lashes out with it tail and breaks the mainmast like a twig. Maybe someone has to jump out of the way or get smashed, but otherwise it won't effect the immediate combat. Later on, the ship may be drastically slowed in its travels, but for now the monster is the problem.  

Hazards could either be addressed with an Ability Test or an Advanced Test. The latter would be for when the danger or challenge lasts for longer than a few minutes. The former is for a sudden crisis: an iceberg looming out of the fog may be a simple Dex (Sailing) check to turn hard to port. Weathering a storm might be an Advanced test vs the captain's skill with a threshold set according to the severity of the threat. Failure in such a test might be represented by a cap on the number of rolls one can make before consequences set in. To use the storm example:

  • Success Threshold: 13 (Tough, but not INSANE. A pretty bad storm)
  • The captain will make Dex (Sailing) rolls. Each roll represents an hour's time. 
  • TN: The storms's intensity is not without its challenges, but well within a competent skipper's normal skills. Let's say 11. 
  • Max Rolls: The GM determines the storm lasts 5 hours. That means the captain must make the success threshold within that window (5 rolls) or it means he couldn't weather the storm and –depending on how far short he fell of the target– his ship and crew suffer the consequences. The GM can determine this as appropriate: Maybe they were merely blown off course. Maybe they were dismasted. Maybe the ship founders and sinks.

Another situation that might arise is a ship to ship action. Perhaps pirates attack the merchant vessel that the PCs have booked passage upon. Maybe the PCs are the pirates!

If the goal of each ship is the same but conflicting, i.e. to attack the other, then opposed sailing rolls by the captains will suffice for maneuvering. Modifiers can be given for things like advantageous positioning (the weather gage) or a ship's sea/battle-worthiness. A win in the opposed roll gives the victor some edge that turn in the fight. Maybe stunt points to those who are actually fighting. Gunnery (or catapults, etc.) are their own attack rolls. GMs could also allow the winner to describe some narrative effect based on the degree of success (stunt die result). 

Another tack (Heheh. Get it?) is to use opposed, advanced tests. This could be especially useful if one ship has a different goal from another. e.g. escape vs. attack.

Each captain declares what their goal is and then the GM sets the success thresholds and TNs. The interval between rolls (time) is determined by the nature of the goals, distance from each other, etc. (probably at least several minutes for each roll in a sailing ship scenario).

Each captain rolls –probably Dex (Sailing) or Int (Navigation), but it would depend on the goal– each captain can theoretically succeed in a turn, but the one who succeeds by the greater margin gains an addition +1 toward their threshold. GMs can also enforce a cap on a captain's rolls like in the storm example if it makes sense. Maybe the pursuing ship must catch its quarry before they can reach the harbor. Perhaps one ship is trying to get through a treacherous reef before night falls while the other ship races around through open water to cut them off on the other side. Who knows? 

Whichever ship that reaches its threshold first wins the contest and the results can be handled narratively. Of course, the result may lead to a new contest or conflict. The chase ends in a boarding action and combat.

These types of contests are probably best in situations where the PCs have some say in how things are handled. If the "captain" of the party's ship is an NPC, have one of the players roll for him. You (the GM) may tell them what the captain wants to do ("We can't win a stand-up fight, we have to flee!" or "If we can force them into the shallows, their heavier draft will run them aground!") but the players need some agency. 

Of course, if the party is in command, let them make their choices. They need to appoint one PC as the commander for the contest. Sailing ship actions depend on coherent orders given definitively and carried out obediently. The other players can have their PCs doing things like firing arrows at the other ship. 

They might assist the captain as well. A character with the Com (Morale) focus might inspire the crew to hop to it, or a mage might cast the Wind Blast spell to give the sails a gust of speed. Such actions might grant +1 assist to the captain for a turn or two.

One could fill chart after chart with different variations of wind and currents and turning radiuses, but I'm trying for something a little more abstract here. Likewise I'm not describing multiple ships from various eras or cultures. I'm not trying to quantify hull AR or health points or speeds and so forth. Most of that might be useful in a wargame or a scenario where the point of it was to determine a real naval battle or ship action in terms of crews, armaments, and ships, but I'm just trying for some ideas on how to run an adventure on the open waves.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Fantasy AGE Bestiary is out

I know, I know. I haven't posted in FOREVER.

My gaming has been sporadic lately and a new job has sucked up a lot of my free time. But, in honor of the new release by Green Ronin, I thought I'd type up a little something related to their entry for vampires.

Specialization: VAMPIRE HUNTER
(Rogue, Warrior, or Mage)
Int: 2
Will: 2

You are dedicated to the destruction of these undead predators

Know your foe. You gain the Vampire Lore (INT) focus. Further, after observing a vampire for three rounds or more, you can make a TN 13 test to determine the vampire's type and one of its vulnerabilities. The "That makes me wonder" stunt can reveal further information.

Iron Will: You gain a +2 when resisting a vampire's magic and Porphyria infection.

Killing Stroke: You can perform the Lethal Blow (Lethal Spell for Mages) stunt vs vampires and thralls for 4 instead of 5SP. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

An artist has left our company

Sorry to hear of the inestimable Mr. Zieser's passing. For those of you who aren't familiar with the name, Steve Zieser was responsible for some of the most iconic work in the OSR, including almost all the illustrations for the revised Labyrinth Lord and Advanced Edition Companion books. He drew many pieces for Faster Monkey Games and was –above all– an incredibly decent human being. Steve fought a ten year battle against cancer and fought unbelievably well.

He will be missed, and not just his art.

Monday, December 14, 2015

RMA: Lich

Honestly, what other image would do?

Okay, the lich isn't exactly obscure,  nor is it a B/X monster. It does appear in the Rules Cyclopedia and the Advanced Edition Companion though, so close enough. It is also certainly an uncommon occurrence in most adventures, as they are one of the nastiest pieces of work out there.

Rather than a typical RMA where I go down through the stats and description (though I'll do some of that too), I'd like to look a bit more closely at what role the lich fulfills in a game.

Now, in terms of raw stats, the lich is quite respectable. That's not what a lich is all about, really. Let's get the numbers out of the way though, so we have them for ready reference.

Lich (from AEC)

No. Enc.: 1 (1)
Alignment: Neutral (evil)
Movement: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 0
Hit Dice: 12+
Attacks: 1 (cold touch)
Damage: 1d10 cold damage
Save: M18+
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: XXII

XP: 4,400

OK, so good AC & HD, nasty cold damage, undead abilities, crazy saves, etc. etc. But that's not what makes the lich so terrible. Reading on into the description:

A lich is an undead magic-user of at least 18th level (and possibly multi-classed) who has used its magical powers and a phylactery to unnaturally extend its life.

A minimum 18th-level spell caster where the GM can take time to plan their spells. That's scary! Still, read on:
Liches are only vulnerable to attack by creatures of 6 HD or more (or creatures of a magical nature), magical attack forms, and they are unaffected by non-magical weapons.
So only magic or big monsters can physically hurt them. Also scary, but not really the point. What else?
 In addition to having undead immunity to charm and sleep, liches are immune to the following spells or forms of damage: cold-based and electrical- based attacks, death spells, enfeeblement, polymorph, and any effects that cause insanity.
Lots of immunities. Sounds like demons and devils. This thing is looking harder and harder to kill. But wait! There's more!
A lich may attack by spell, or with a cold touch attack that deals 1d10 hp damage. Victims must also save versus paralyze or become paralyzed permanently, unless magically cured. Finally, all beings with 4 or fewer HD that see a lich will be affected with fear, and no saving throw is permitted.
Yup. Permanent paralysis and a no-save fear effect. All this and a few other odds and ends (depending upon which version you are using) adds up to a formidable, but not unstoppable, opponent. So why so scary? Well, a few things.

First of all, the lich –like dragons or senior demons– are not random encounter fodder. Not only should they be planned encounters, they are often the keystone of entire campaigns! To quote the Rules Cyclopedia entry:

Liches are master villains, coordinating armies and spy-networks made up the undead. Each one has its own goal: One may want to achieve true Immortality, one may serve an evil Immortal of Entropy, one may wish to transform the entire world into a horrid playground for the undead. Each lich in a campaign should have its own name, style, and motivation.

 In other words, think about it a bit before placing one of these things in your world. What does it want? What steps has it taken thus far? What precautions has it taken?

Precaution-wise, liches are likely to have whole legions of minions –undead or otherwise. Not to mention fortifications, hidden lairs, magical wards, etc. Plus, while it's not actually stated overtly in the rules, the implication is that the phylactery is necessary to keep existing in its undead state and if it were destroyed, the lich would die too. If the phylactery endures, the lich may return even if it's body is "killed."

Certainly this is how I've seen it played out or referred to in later gaming texts. Of course, locating the phylactery is often the point of major quests. Much like getting the One Ring to Mt. Doom, the horcru– I mean phylactery!– must be found and destroyed to end the lich's schemes.

The lich's plans may have been centuries in the making. GMs' default assumptions should be that the lich would have thought of something as a precaution against nearly any plan the PCs might cook up. Their lairs will be fortified, guarded, and probably trapped. Not to mention the lich may be willing to play a longer game; even lose a fight to fool the PCs into thinking they've won!

Liches' master plans should be epic in scope, like the examples above; taking over the world, becoming a god, etc. A lich isn't going to stoop to hanging around some dungeon guarding a chest of coins.

PCs should have plenty of chances to learn of the lich's existence before getting anywhere near it. That said, if they do barge ahead and bash in the gates without truly preparing for the fight, then they shouldn't be surprised when they find themselves rolling up new characters for the following session!