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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 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!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

RSA: Spiritwrack (-wrath)

Now, this spell is technically a 1st edition creation, but I decided to do a write-up for it because:

  • A version of it is in Labyrinth Lord's Advanced Edition Companion ("Spiritwrath")
  • It fits the obscurity test I generally apply to these kinds of posts (I've never seen it used or mentioned in play)
  • It is so darned cool!
The nature of the spell can be briefly summarized thusly:

The MU can create a scroll which, when read in the presence of a specific infernal/nether creature (e.g. a demon or similar), will A) root it to the spot, B) torture it for a for a bit, then C) banish to imprisonment on its home plane.

Nasty, huh?

Here are the basics (from AEC)

(MU) Level: 6
Duration: Special
Range: 10' +1/level

For starters, this isn't a spell that you'll memorize "just in case." You need blood from the type of creature you're preparing the scroll against. the individual creature's true name, and 100's of GPs worth of gems ground into the blood ink.

Spiritwrath can be used against demons, devils, powerful vampires, or liches. The description mentions that the spell is "often used to extort something from its victim, and may be stopped at any time short of imprisonment." This bespeaks a level of premeditated nastiness not typically seen in dungeon crawls.

The scroll is recited for several rounds, basically in effect until the mage stops reading it. It is interesting to note that the intervals listed are in turns (10 minutes). So this is an extended process, not fire & forget.

Another fun tidbit is while the entity gets a saving throw, even if it does resist, it can't directly attack the caster. The scroll acting much like a scroll of warding. It is most likely the creature will flee.

If the spell works and is read through to completion, the demon (or whatever) is banished to its home plane (undead are sent to the plane of negative energy) and imprisoned there for one year per caster level! Since this is a 6th level spell, under normal circumstances the caster is at least 11th level. So the nasty is gone for a decade or more. in practical terms, this means most campaigns will not see the banishee again. Of course, that demon the PC MU's mentor banished a decade ago might show up any time!

The description makes a point of explaining that the banished entity will likely harbor ill will against the caster. Also, if the spell is used to broker a deal, the caster better be pretty darn careful about the letter of the agreement, because you know the baddie will be looking for a loophole to screw him over with.

This spell is one of those very evocative and fun uses of magic that so rarely gets any table time that it's a shame. While I can totally understand PCs not prioritizing this one, I would love to drop a book or scroll into a game describing the ritual so that MU gets to add this to his grimoire. Once a PC has the spell available, who knows when they might decide to give it a whirl?

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Nick of Time

Something that came up in a conversation about a mini-module I wrote got me thinking. The issue was related to encounter randomization and pacing. It's all well and good to say "The monster lives in the cave, which is located at the 'X' on the map." If the PCs never go to X, they don't fight the monster. Simple. But if they miss all the interesting spots, the night's session can get a bit dull.

In cases of a limited layout (i.e. a dungeon) the odds of not finding anything of interest in any room is slight; even if it's not combat (maybe there is a puzzle or trap to deal with). In wilderness or town adventures, the odds of PCs wandering into Dullsville get higher.

I have a solution I like to use: I just move the set pieces around on the fly. Go west instead of east, then I just move the haunted farmhouse (or whatever) into their path. In fact, for my own games, I've actually stopped placing things on the overland maps until after the encounter happens.

This can be seen more than one way, of course. On the one hand, it allows a level of player agency where you let them decide how to proceed ("We cross the river" vs "We stay away from the water"). Players like to feel like their choices matter. Otherwise why even ask them? On the other hand, if the trap or the monster is going to end up in their path anyway, what's the point?

My answer is that the set piece(s) aren't the only thing that the PCs might encounter. Also, once a feature like a town or dungeon or temple, etc. is encountered, then it is  fixed on the map. I'm not going to move it about in their way– geographically or narratively. Unless the nature of the encounter is mobile (caravan or some such).

It's the same with time.  If the players have no knowledge of a timetable to work with, then they will arrive when it is dramatically appropriate. On the other hand, if they are given a deadline to work with ("The scrolls say the hellgate opens at sunset!") and they choose to wait or are delayed, then so be it.

All this flies in the face of sandbox lovers but I have to admit, over the years I've played too many pure sandboxes that fell flat when it came to pacing and excitement to worry too much about it.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Necromancy Arcana for FAGE: My First Take

I decided I wanted to have some rules for necromancers in my game (who doesn't?!), so I worked these up. I tried for more of a witch doctor/shaman vibe as opposed to just "evil with skulls." 

Obviously, like most magic in the book, more powerful versions of the magic might be possible with things like rituals and legendary items.


You can pierce the veil between the land of the living and the realm of death.

  • Novice: You learn the spells Voices of the Dead and Death Ward. 
  • Journeyman: You gain the spell Unbinding. You also gain the focus Intelligence (Necromancy Arcana).
  • Master: You learn the spell Animate Corpse. You can also choose one spell stunt you can perform for –1 SP when casting Necromancy Arcana spells.

Requirements: Necromancy Arcana (Novice)
Spell Type: Utility
MP Cost: 4
Casting Time: 1 minute
Target Number: 13
Test: Willpower (Self-Discipline) vs. Spellpower

You can contact a dead soul and question it. The spell must be cast where the soul died or its resting place (grave). There is no language barrier, but the creature must have been sentient in life. You can ask up to three questions, but the spell fades after one minute. The soul can attempt to resist answering at any point in the process, but only once. A success means it breaks contact without answering any further questions. If you have a piece of the departed's remains (bone, hair, etc.) or know their name, your spellpower is effectively at +2. The soul can only speak to what it knew in life. Its answers may be incorrect (telling what it believes to be true) but it cannot lie. 

Requirements: Necromancy Arcana (Novice)
Spell Type: Defense
MP Cost: 4
Casting Time: Major Action
Target Number: 10
Test: Willpower (Courage) vs. Spellpower

You can create a shield of energy, centered on one person within 12 yards of the caster, that holds back the undead, corporeal or otherwise. Spectres, walking dead, and similar creatures must succeed in a Willpower (Courage) or be held back a distance of 2 yards from the target of the spell. The ward does not prevent weapons or magical attacks from getting through (e.g. a spectre's shriek). The spell lasts until the end of the encounter, but if the warded character attacks the undead (magically or otherwise), the spell ends. 

Requirements: Necromancy Arcana (Journeyman)
Spell Type: Attack
MP Cost: 8
Casting Time: Major Action
Target Number: 14
Test: Constitution (Stamina) vs. Spellpower

A sphere of disruptive energy bursts out from your location in a 10 yard radius. Any undead in the affected area (including flying or underground) take 2d6+1 penetrating damage, a successful CON test reduces the damage to 1d6+1 penetrating. 

Requirements: Necromancy Arcana (Master)
Spell Type: Utility
MP Cost: 10
Casting Time: 1 minute
Target Number: 15
Test: none

You can create a Walking Dead minion (see FAB p. 113). It becomes either a skeleton or zombie, depending on the state of the body. The spell animates one cadaver for each casting, but it can be cast multiple times. The body must be within 10 yards of the caster. The undead will obey your mental commands for 1 hour before de-animating, but you can extend the spell's duration by 1 hour per +5 MP. Regardless of the MP spent, the spell will end at the next sunrise.