Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Cypher System - first impressions

New Beginnings - d101 Games
So here's a useful way to learn a new rules system. First, sit in on a game as a player, then generate some player characters, and finally convert an existing adventure. This is exactly what I've been doing, using the core rules of Monte Cook's Cypher System, which are now available in a generic format. Wise connoissuers of Mister Cook's output will be aware that this system underpins his Numenera and The Strange offerings.

Last year I took the opportunity to sit in on a game of Numenera, as part of the BURPS RPG get-together at Brighton's Dice Saloon in September. I went away with a favourable impression. Since returning from India last month, I've been teaching myself the generic version of the rules system. I am using a copy of Gloranthan Adventures - New Beginnings, from d101 Games, which I've had for a while, but have never used. This series of adventures set in Dragon Pass is written for HeroQuest, but up until now I've had problems getting my head around the system.

Using New Beginnings as a template, I have generated five pre-gens for Cypher, based on the characters in the back of the d101 Games supplement. It has proved remarkably simple to do this, and each character really only took about 20 - 30 minutes to make. Even though the characters are Tier 1 (out of six), they are still relatively potent. Although there are four 'classes' in generic Cypher (as opposed to three in Numenera), they are so highly customisable with the other aspects of their backgrounds, that each appears a unique personality in their own right.

Each character is composed of three elements, a class, a description, and what they do. So, for example, the character of Oldra Rainwarrior, an initiate of Helamakt and a shepherd who has had his steading destroyed by Lunars, has been created as a Sharp-Eyed Adept Who Speaks For The Land. This aptly describes what he is, an adept, what he does, he is sharp-eyed (a good skill for a shepherd), and what he does (speaks for the land). His devotion to the warrior aspect of the Heortling rain god Heler is covered by a mix of his adept class and his speaks for the land.

The core classes bring most of the practical skills including the critical attribute pools, while the other features add further flesh with skill specialisations and personality traits. What I like about Cypher is that it brings character into the mechanics. Characters are not simply a combat matrix. There are rules that enforce behaviour. There is also an opportunity to tie characters to other characters via relationships.

So, taking Oldra as an example again, part of his background is that he has lost his sheep. In the confusion of the Lunar raid, he suspects the sibling of one of the other characters took the opportunity to steal them. The player gets to choose which character it is, and the players between them are left to work out the rest. It is a great little sub-plot, it is introduced right at the beginning, in the character generation phase, and adds context to the relations between the characters.

Ease of conversion and customization

Overall, the Gloranthan characters have been easy to convert to Cypher. I have also added XP rewards within their backgrounds to reflect their devotion to their gods, and also to reinforce some personality traits. If I travel further down this road, it might be worth looking at attaching XP to successful emulation of the core values of a deity, and possibly also to the successful completion of Heroquests.

I have converted two adventures into Cypher from New Beginnings. They are traditional sword and sorcery adventures, but also good as introductions to Glorantha. I've held off converting a third, largely because it is a little different from the first two, involving more politics, social interaction, and scope for mass combat. Currently I remain unsure how successful Cypher would be with a densely political scenario. That's not to say it can't manage intrigue, just that I've not attempted it yet.

I will just finish this post by saying that there are probably some settings / situations that Cypher will not work for. Because of its reliance on the discovery and use of cyphers, which play an important role in the game, some genres, like investigation, probably won't work so well. Cypher came out of Numenera, the central plot of which is the discovery of, and interaction with lost technology. It is difficult to see how the game would work in an environment where there was not scope for the cyphers to be there to be discovered and implemented by the characters. Doing this seamlessly is one of the key elements of converting existing adventures or settings to the system.

Thus far Gloranthan encounters have been relatively easy to manufacture using the template encounters in the Cypher book. There is no big Cypher bestiary to my knowledge, and some of the encounters in New Beginnings are fairly unique, even for Glorantha. But I think I've captured them adequately. The flexibility of Cypher is such that it takes less time to port them over than it would do converting these same NPCs into RuneQuest, which would be a much more complex task.

Stay tuned for more on this project as it progresses.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Icons of Yext - The Merchant

Given that I'm not completely blown away by the default Dragon Empire setting for 13th Age, and with the lack of a psionics rules package to allow for play in Eberron, I am writing a series of alternative icon profiles for a campaign setting I've got cooking on the back burner. Yext is a large continent which may play host to my 13th Age games at some point in the future, hence there is a need for icons that suit its unique character. A map of Yext may be forthcoming on this site in the near future, which will hopefully provide a little more context.

The Merchant

The powerful trading guilds that regulate maritime commerce and traffic down the vital Flowroute all report in to a single individual, responsible for directing the policy of the independent city states that flourish as a result of long distance trade. The Merchant is the master of all Guildmasters, the man or woman tasked with ensuring that no one city or guild rises to a position of dominance on Yext.

Quote: "I would love to be able to accommodate you, but as you can see from these figures, you have already exceeded your annual wool quota."

Usual location: He/she will move from place to place, although generally to be found in one of the big trading ports along the Flowroute.

Common Knowledge:

Free navigation through the Flowroute, and back across the continent via Portage, is considered essential for trade between the cities and kingdoms of Man. Costly wars were one way of trying to control this, but after the expenditure of much blood and treasure, it was decided that peaceful, regulated trade might be achieved for the benefit of all. The rise of powerful trading and craft guilds has helped to achieve this state of affairs. They now enjoy an iron grip on the movement of people and goods between the major ports along the Flowroute and through Portage.

The Merchant is elected every five years from among the senior Guildmasters. The process is lengthy, and dogged with back room politicking and favour-trading between the major mercantile factions, with the odd prince or duke getting involved from time to time. A great deal of money and power is at stake at election time. The guild that provides the next Merchant can be sure they will prosper for the next five years.

The Merchant sometimes dies in office, not always of natural causes. In this case, his deputy usually takes over. Again, this latter position is also an elected one, and the identity of the deputy, also known as the Right Hand, is determined in the same election. By tradition the role falls to the Guildmaster with the second highest number of votes.

The Merchant has to navigate a tricky path - with power comes responsibility. His authority is underpinned by his ability to function in as unbiased and neutral a fashion as possible. The Merchant cannot afford to play favourites. His ability to command the military and political weight that accrues to his position stems from his ability to act properly within the remit of his office. Those Merchants that have enjoyed the highest respect historically have been individuals that have acted against the caprices of their home guild. 

Adventurers and the Icon

While fleets, armies and economic sanctions are just some of the tools available to the Merchant, he also frequently has need for more covert assets. Adventurers are often employed to carry out missions for the Merchant, be it helping to safeguard the flow of commerce, investigating abuses on the part of a guild, or providing vital intelligence to help safeguard his position.

Adventurers who make themselves unpopular with one or more of the trading guilds, or who act to interfere with shipping or the flow of trade, can quickly find themselves on the wrong side of the Merchant, and he has the resources to make the lives of adventurers very difficult, particularly north of the Flowroute.

Allies

The Merchant is most closely aligned with the Five, as while his power extends mostly to the large urban centres, the Five control much of northern Yext. They frequently work to together to meet any major threats to the security and prosperity of the northern realms. The Five know they need to stay in the good graces of the Merchant for their land-bound kingdoms to prosper. The Merchant also needs to stay friendly with the Sand Khan in order to ensure the Portage Way continues to function: he is reliant on the slaves and security provided by the nomads. It is also rumoured that the Beggar Prince provides the Merchant with a valuable flow of information, and that on occasion the assassins of the Old Man of the Mountain have worked for the Merchant.

Enemies

First and foremost of his enemies is the Corsair. The pirate fleets are a constant thorn in the Merchant's side, and despite his efforts, the Corsair continues to prey on shipping in the eastern seas. The Scaled One and the Jester are continual threats to the peace and stability of humankind, and the Merchant will oppose them when and where he can.

History

The role of the Merchant has been established now for over a century. While some individuals have been able to serve multiple terms as Merchant, the peaceful passage of power has underpinned the strength and prosperity of the civilized realms of northern Yext. The Merchant may not have access to the flying castles and military power of the Five, but his wealth has grown to far exceed theirs, and he has plenty of options should he ever need to curtail their arrogance.

The True Danger

Everything will be all right provided that no Merchant decides he can avoid his responsibilities, becoming convinced that he can operate without accountability to the guilds or the citizens of the ports. Should the authority of the office be undermined, warfare and famine could consume the north. 


Monday, 16 January 2017

Back to Apple Lane - Part III



Last time our heroes discovered that the crystal they had been assigned to guard had gone missing. There seemed to be little they could do at this stage than wait for the return of Gringle and Quackjohn to Apple Lane in the morning.

Gringle returned to survey the damage - the kitchen door bashed down, most of the kitchen furniture matchwood, a pile of bodies in his temple room, many of his roof tiles broken...and some sheepish adventurers unable to explain how the crystal they were meant to be guarding, disappeared in the night. Gringle was himself at a loss to explain where the centaur and the dragon newts had come from, given that he had told the party to expect an attack from baboons.

Still, a missing crystal was a missing crystal. Gringle pronounced himself unable to pay bounty on baboon heads unless the characters could find it. He and Quackjohn did not have the name of the adventurer who had sold it to them, and no idea where the baboons laired up. If the adventurers wanted to be paid, he said, then they would have to go get it back.

He agreed to buy some of the equipment of the fallen attackers (e.g. the centaur's lance), and sold a Haste scroll to Quilliam. He also bought the Fertility runestone they had taken from one of the dead dragon newts for 200 silver pieces (Rothgar's player, despite being a mean haggler in Indian street markets, does not seem inclined to haggle in-game!)

Rothgar and Quilliam dragged the bodies outside, gave them another search, and debated whether to skin the centaur for its hide, with a view to making armour from it. Quilliam in the end decided the result would not be superior to what they were already wearing, and Maria again declined to have armour made for her. Finally, the set fire to them, and headed over to the Tin Inn to see if anyone could remember the mysterious adventurer who had come through a week earlier.

At the Tin Inn, across the street from the pawn shop, Quilliam had a chat with the landlady Bertha, who could remember the stranger but not his name or where he was going. He did not stay at the inn.Quilliam and Rothgar eventually eye-balled a somewhat disheveled man, sitting down and writing in one corner of the common room. They struck up a conversation with him, and discovered him to be a poet, called Pramble.

Pramble, a man struggling to make ends meet as a part-time poet and part-time scullion, was questioned fruitlessly about the adventurer, but this led on to a conversation about last night's fight at the pawn shop. Pramble was naturally keen to hear about the outcome, as he had watched it all from the inn and wanted to compose a ditty about the action. Rothgar was under-impressed with the fact that Pramble had not helped when they needed it, but Pramble professed he was not a man of action, but of words. He had, however, spotted the centaur, which he identified as Biglaugh Bigclub, a known bandit and part of a group that had been making a nuisance of itself in eastern Sartar recently.

Quilliam questioned Pramble on whether he was aware of any bandit lairs in the vicinity, and while the poet held out for some money before revealing the information, intimidation from Rothgar quickly changed his mind: he said that a troll called White Eye was rumoured to have set up a base near the Rainbow Mounds, about a day's hard march from Apple Lane.

Deciding that this was as good a place as any  to start, the adventurers bought some provisions and set off, deciding to make it an easy two day hike to the ancient monoliths on the Rainbow Mounds. Camping under the stars in the arid wilderness, Zariah rolled a critical while foraging for roots and rabbits, and discovered the tracks of four baboons, also heading in the same direction as the party, and seemingly carrying something heavy...

The next day they pressed on, and came upon the giant megalith called the Giants' Table. Beneath it, they discovered a cave entrance leading down. The party began quietly stacking rocks to form a small wall across the entrance, and then started a fire. The wind blew the smoke down into the cave, and the group waited patiently. Eventually they were rewarded by the unexpected sally of four rock lizards, which came pounding up out of the smoke and the darkness. Smiling grimly, Rothgar readied his axe...

Monday, 9 January 2017

100 Days Campaign: it's all kicking off!

June 15, 17.55 in the evening, Charleroi

It looks like it is kicking off at Laneffe...!
 News is flooding in fast from all over the theatre. The French seem to be coming at us from all directions. To my right, Zeithen and the Prussian I Corps have been attacked by the French III Corps under Van Damme at Thuin. To the south, at Laneffe, it looks like the three divisions I left there have been assaulted by that rogue Marshal Ney, with D'Erlon and the French I Corps. I'm not exactly sure where Napoleon is right now, and I am trying to identify which of these attacks represents the main French thrust. However, two entire corps are starting to look more than a little convincing!

On my left, at Yvoir, another French corps has materialised from the direction of Dinant under the command of Lobau, with six brigades. Heavy fighting is being reported in that direction.

Spies have come in from Marche, reporting that French cavalry were seen there, heading north. This could mean some form of outflanking maneuver, either towards Ciney or Bomal, but this looks like a long way round. If there IS a major French formation out there, it would be heading towards Huy or Liege and might therefore require further investigation. The question is whether I can spare the cavalry for a foray in that direction...?

At the moment the most potent threat seems to be from Ney. I am leaving Zeithen to take care of the situation at Thuin, while I concentrate the Prussian IV corps south of Chaleroi. It looks to me as if a big battle is brewing here. I may need to support my troops at Laneffe, or assist Zeithen, depending on what happens there. We look to have another couple of hours of daylight left, after which we may have a chance to consolidate our position.

What is also worrisome is that the French are reported at Mons. This is a bit out of my 'sector' so to speak, but there are British troops at Seneffe and Ath, so with luck Wellington will be able to deal with that little trouble. Still no dispatches from Wellington's headquarters. I wonder what he is up to?

Generalfeldmarschall von Blucher

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Gaming plans for 2017

Fuel Stop - coming to a gaming table in 2017.
I'm now back from a very enjoyable break in India. about which I may post further in the near future. Suffice to say, it was a wonderful opportunity to return to the country of my childhood, from which I had been away for far too long.

It seems to be de rigeur on many of the blogs I currently follow to outline some gaming plans for the New Year. I anticipate that I'm going to be extremely busy this year on the work front, so will therefore be keeping any ambitions within conservative limits.

Tabletop roleplaying games

On the RPG front, I quite enjoyed running Deadlands Noir at Dragonmeet last month, so plan to run some more homebrew scenarions at cons in the future. In particular, I will continue to fine tune 'Looking For Lucy', perhaps migrating it from the Deadlands universe to Call of Cthulhu. Although originally written to launch a Deadlands Noir campaign, it seems to work quite well in a con environment, and may also be published on this site at some point for use by others.

My 'Operation Prospero' spec ops adventure, which I ran using Night's Black Agents at Dragonmeet 2015, has been submitted to the Delta Green shotgun scenario contest at Kelvin's suggestion, and I plan to convert it wholeheartedly over to the new DG rules, again for use as a one shot at cons.

I'm also working on a couple of new ideas for adventures: 'Fuel Stop' is a WW2 adventure in the Pacific theatre, which features the crew of a B29 bomber that has sustained damage during a raid on Tokyo in 1945. Running out of fuel over the Pacific Ocean and nearly a thousand miles from the nearest Allied base, the crew are desperately looking for somewhere to land, other than in the sea! I'm probably going to be working on this over the next 3-4 months when I get the chance. This may either use Savage Worlds or Call of Cthulhu.

Finally, at a very early stage in a fourth adventure, currently without working title, that takes place in Malaya in the 1920s. The investigators are all locally interested parties that respond to the suicide of an English manager on a rubber plantation in Perak during monsoon season. This is still very much on the drawing board, but like 'Fuel Stop', is beginning to take shape.

Apart from this, I'm dabbling in a few new systems at the moment. In particular, I've become quite focused on Glorantha in recent weeks and have been running some RuneQuest while in India over the Christmas break. This is something I'd quite like to continue with going forward, perhaps migrating the campaign from its beginnings in Apple Lane to New Pavis. Further updates to this campaign will appear on this site.

 Miniatures

I achieved very little with this in 2016, and expect little better in 2017 due to the amount of work involved in managing three growing companies. I shall be keeping my ambitions very conservative, with perhaps some Blood Bowl, X-Wing and Warhammer 40,000. If time, I may experiment with some other games, like Dragon Rampant and The Men Who Would Be Kings. I'd also like to try out some Vietnam War company-level scenarios if there is the opportunity. I suspect miniatures gaming will be conducted on a very ad hoc basis this year.

I'm also meant to be putting together the next issue of the Battlefleet newsletter for the Naval Wargames Society, but not much progress has been made on this yet. Hopefully I will be able to make some more progress in the next couple of months, when time allows...

Megagames

As I mentioned in a previous post, I may see if I can organise a couple of megagames in Brighton this year. There are a number of logistical obstacles involved, the two primary ones being an appropriate venue and attracting enough players. It may be we try out one of the established scenarios first, before venturing into brand new events. Again, for the time being, updates on these projects will be on this blog. 

In summary, I'm taking a very cautious approach to 2017, with very few ambitious projects on the horizon. The question will be how this sits with a very busy work schedule.