Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Solus "Sol" Harshant - a second attempt at Traveller PC generation

Rutger Hauer as Sol Harshant?
So, still focused on the idea of running some Traveller at some point, I'm going to use this opportunity to have a second crack at PC generation. I'm hoping that I'll be a little luckier than my previous effort. What I like about Traveller is the sheer old school randomness of the PC generation method. No min / maxing here (well, there is scope for some manipulation). You get what you roll. It reminds me of the good old days of rolling 3d6 for your attributes and starting from the top of your character sheet, sadly now relegated to the mists of time.

Let's get started then. Solus Harshant obtains the following for his attributes: Strength 7, Dexterity 4 (-1), Endurance 6, Intelligence 8, Education 7, Social Standing 4 (-1).

Taking a moment to think about things this time, we decide that we need to avoid any careers that require good Dex. The poor Soc score we'll just have to live with. There are no real strong points here. Solus goes with Space Science 0, Physical Science 0, and Engineer - Power 0 as his background skills.

First career attempt at 18, and Sol tries for Scholar (Scientist), needing Edu 4+ to get in. He gets 9 and walks it. He picks up Comms 0, Computers 0, Diplomat 0, Medic 0, Investigate 0 and decides to upgrade his Space Science to 1. He also gets Life Sciences 1. He nails his survival roll with an 8, and gets promoted to Level 1 Scientist, picking up Physical Science 1 in the process. He achieves a major scientific breakthrough at the tender age of 22, and gets promoted to Level 2. His extra roll on Scientist comes out as Computers 1. Awesome.

Another term in Scientist awaits Sol. He goes for personal development, and gets a 5, taking his End score up to 7. He's obviously working out when not in the lab. He stays in Scientist and makes his advancement roll as well. He wins a prize for his work (+1 Benefit roll), and picks up +1 Soc (takes him to 5) and Engineer - M-Drive 1, as well as Physical Science 2 as his advancement benefit. He is starting to earn recognition for his work.

Third term in Scientist for Sol. He makes his survival roll, but fails to advance. He boosts his Int to 9. He makes a breakthrough in his field, getting +2 for his next advancement check, but now decides to cash out and use his +1 benefit bonus. He banks 40,000 credits and goes looking for a new career at age 30.

Seeking for his work, Sol tries for Agent - Corporate. He has -3 on his roll to qualify but +1 on his Int of 9. He needs an Int 8+ roll, and gets 8! He's in! He gets Deception 1 as a Corporate Agent. He makes his survival roll and gets promoted up to Agent, with Deception 2. He makes an extra roll on Personal Development because of this, and obtains Melee - Unarmed Combat 1. He goes above and beyond the call of duty, which garners him +2 for his next advancement check.

Now at 34, he makes his first ageing check. He is at -4 for his existing terms. He gets net zero, so has to lose -1 on a characteristic. I randomise it, and roll Endurance, which is bad news for Sol, as it takes him to 6, undoing all that good work in the gym. Blast.  He makes his survival roll. For advancement, he really only needs to avoid snake eyes, and gets a seven. The corporation loves him! He is now a Field Agent, and picks up Investigate 1. He uses one of his rolls to boost his End back to 7, and also receives Stealth 1.

Sol is now 38 and it is time for a -5 ageing check. This could hurt. And it does. He ends up with -3 and has to drop his three physical characteristics to Str 6, Dex 3(-1) and End 6. This is a big disaster for Sol. He decides to quit and musters out with a weapon of his choice. In the interests of game balance, I let him take a TL9 laser rifle and a power pack.

Final touches: I give Sol four skills from the Traveller package to help him survive past his first adventure, namely Persuade 1, Gun Combat (Energy Rifle) 1, Pilot (Small Craft) 1 and Stealth 2 (he's going to need that with his horrendous Dex).

That extra term in Agent probably did Sol no favours. He should have mustered out earlier. I wanted to see how far I could take him without resorting to anagathics, which had the potential to bite quite severely into his savings. I now have to work out how he knows Vala Kontiri and what equipment he has to hand. I also have to work out whether they need a third PC in support to fill in any gaps, but I think I have most of the key skills covered. I might even use the first adventure to throw the characters together.

I really like the Mongoose system so far. It is very easy to get the hang of. Indeed, I'm seriously thinking about converting my Operation Tempest one-shot scenario from d20 Modern to Traveller, and keeping it all at TL8.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Poddo - A Hobbit's Story

Podo samples the medicinal qualities of Stirland Special Leaf
You may consider this the latest update on our ongoing WFRP campaign, The Enemy Within 2.0. In my last post, we left our hardy adventurers in the town of Delberz, looking for a boat down river. Our GM has done a very good job of summarising what happens next. I'm a little hazy about this particular session, as it was at the end of a particularly busy week. That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it. Go read his blog to find out what happened.

Instead of just repeating the session verbatim here, I'm going to spend some time talking about Poddo. He is a halfling, a barber surgeon, and an NPC in our campaign. He is also a henchman in the classic gaming sense of the word.

While we were still in Averheim, we began to notice that wounded WFRP adventurers can take some time to heal up. This is not Dungeons and Dragons. While Fate points can save your bacon in WFRP, you still need to spend time, valuable weeks even, recovering. There are no convenient healing potions or clerics in the party who can channel positive energy at the drop of a mace.

In Averheim we started to visit the temple of Shallya, the goddess of healing. A lot. This quickly became quite expensive, and we also realised that the flow of gold into the party ranks was going to be...unpredictable. Hence, we worked out it might be simpler to hire our own surgeon to accompany the party on its travels. Enter Poddo.

Poddo was working as a surgeon in Averheim but was not very successful. He was not our first candidate for the job, either, but the other surgeon looked like he was going to be too expensive (although more competent), so we had to settle for the hobbit. Poddo could also cook, and agreed to a contract that would see him taking a half share (i.e. 50% of what other party members took) of all loot, plus have his room and board paid for. In exchange, he would be on hand to patch up party members when required.

Poddo's duties have become slightly more onerous than that, however. He has spent a lot of time driving our cart, for example. The idea was obviously that he would not be taking part in any actually fighting, but this has meant he is frequently assigned to look after horses, often under the watchful eye of another - armed - character, while the rest of us are dungeoneering.

However, things have become a little more complicated. There was the incident with the giant spider, which dropped on our cart out of the trees while we were travelling through the Great Forest. Unavoidable really. It was obviously unfortunate that Poddo was bitten, poisoned, and fell off the cart. We explained that this was an isolated incident, and that usually he would be surrounded by heavily armed adventurers who could protect him from such perils.

After that, there was the attack on our rear during our battle with the Chaos Beastmen near Middenheim. That was entirely unexpected, as they rushed us out of nowhere while the main, tooled-up portion of the party was busy killing a Minotaur. It could have happened to anyone. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can't remember whether Poddo was harmed in the assault. Probably not.

More recently, while left to guard a barge with Drandruel, Poddo was attacked by a couple of river trolls. To his credit, he felled one with a single shot from his sling, a most impressive feat which, if he is not careful, will see him promoted to full party member status. What lies ahead for the plucky hobbit surgeon from Averheim? Only time - and the dice - will tell.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Milestones in gaming #5: Call of Cthulhu

I first stumbled across Call of Cthulhu when I started reading White Dwarf in the mid-1980s. At the time, CoC was being covered on a monthly basis in the magazine, and even had its own column, Crawling Chaos. I had no idea at the time who H.P. Lovecraft was, but the idea of an RPG set in the near past which involved some kind of Mythos intrigued me. What were these Deep Ones? Who was Yog Sothoth? The articles did not explain.

What also made me curious was the different approach the published scenarios took from the hack and slash of Dungeons and Dragons Basic. This game was not about slaughtering hordes of kobolds and walking off with your own body weight in gold. Here professors and private eyes delved into forbidden secrets, frequently hidden away in musty old tomes with exotic names like the Necronomicon and the Voynich Manuscript. Yes, they toted modern guns as well, but it seemed as if your character could actually go insane in this game!

The artwork used on the front of the game also helped to sell it to me: at the time I think the second edition boxed set was being sold in the UK by Games Workshop, featuring two investigators in 1920s dress being warned away from an old American colonial mansion. But what I particularly loved was the art used on the front of the Cthulhu By Gaslight boxed set which Chaosium released in 1986. Here, in Victorian London, a promenading English gentleman was about to be assailed by the forces of the Mythos.

I liked the idea of gaming in Victorian England, and while at the time I did not own a copy of the game, I devised my own version to play at school with my friends. This took the form of a diary in which investigators took turns to write updates, similar in tone to Bram Stoker's Dracula, with the GM adding notes about what was happening. It was not the Cthulhu Mythos they faced, as I still had little idea what that was, but frequently creatures from Dungeons and Dragons and popular myth were unleashed on 1870s Britain. Most of the plot, slightly inspired by Ghostbusters, involved an investigation into the works of a medieval sculptor that were coming to life.

But I digress. I eventually got my hands on a copy of the game in 1988, when GW published it under license as a hardback. I ran The Haunted House, the classic beginners scenario in the book, for my group. Luckily it was on a dark and stormy night, and they eventually broke off the investigation because the players were becoming too frightened! This was a major change in pace from our usual fare.

As it turned out, CoC became my 'go to' RPG at university as well. In my final year the books on my shelf attracted curiosity, and before long I was running a regular Sunday afternoon session for a multi-national group of players. I realised that one of the great things about the game is the familiarity of the setting for new players. The default setting is 1920s USA, but it can be easily adapted backwards or forwards in time, or moved to another country. Indeed, I'm currently brainstorming 1920s Malaya and Singapore as an alternative setting. CoC represents, in my view, one of the ideal entry level RPG systems. It is easy to learn, does not require much additional background knowledge (everyone understands what a doctor or a journalist is, but who knows what a Ventrue is?), and focuses on investigative elements that are familiar to anyone who has watched a TV crime show.

CoC remains one of the most popular and widely played RPGs ever written, and despite being published in 1981, has changed little from its first edition, far less so than Dungeons and Dragons, for example. It is a true classic.

Next time: Warhammer and miniatures gaming

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Vala Kontiri - a first attempt at Traveller PC generation (updated)

I'm determined that at some stage I'm going to get my head round Traveller, and I'm going to run it, damn it! It seems like an excellent system for running a sandbox campaign as it actually does lack the level of crunch you can encounter in some other games systems. There is plenty of heavy lifting for a GM to do behind the scenes, but that seems to be more an issue of creativity. The important thing is that at the table it is no more complex than Basic Roleplaying, as far as I can see at first glance.

To this end I'm going to cook up a sandbox campaign on the fly, in the odd spare moment, with a view to dipping into it now and again, when the opportunity arises.

To begin with, then, I'm going to generate a couple of PCs for my kids to use. I'm informing my choices by their style of play and general preference for characters. I'm using the Mongoose version of Traveller.

My first character is Vala Kontiri. At this point I have not detailed the sector they will be adventuring in, so I have just picked four background skills at random.

Attributes (adjusted for accident - see below): Strength 8, Dexterity 8, Endurance 5 (-1), Intelligence 9, Education 11 (+1), Social Status 5 (-1).

Background skills: Art (Dance) 0, Seafarer 0, Streetwise 0, Social Science 0

At age 18 Vala Kontiri begins as a Rank 0 Entertainer, going with the Performer specialisation. Because it is her first career, she picks up all the service package skills, namely Art (Dance) which I think now goes to +1, Art (Holography) 0, Carouse 0, Deception 0, Persuade 0 and Steward 0. She also picks up Athletics - Coordination 1, but she fails her survival roll, and gets booted out of Entertainer at 22 due to a scandal (undetermined at this stage).

I decided to take a shot at the Citizen career for Vala, and she makes it in! She goes with the Colonist specialisation in an effort to get away from whatever scandal ruined her dance career. She picks up Melee (Unarmed Combat) 0, and Recon 1. But she fails her survival roll AGAIN, and is harassed by a gang. Her life is ruined and she picks up the gang as an enemy. One for the sandbox.

Back on the street, Vala has a shot at the Agent career, but fails to get in. Her average Intelligence continues to punish her. She now has a choice - Drifter or the draft. I went with the draft, and rolled Navy. Vala ends up as Line Crew. She gets Vacc Suit 0, Comms 1 and fails her survival roll once again. She is invalided out of the service following a near-fatal accident.

At 30 she is still penniless, having failed to come away with any mustering out benefits to date. She goes for Rogue, but at -3 DM for her previous careers, she fails (modified 7), and opts for Drifter. She gets Streetwise 1, and goes with the Scavenger specialty and receives Astrogation 1. She makes her survival roll, finally, and can muster out of Drifter at 34 years old. She gets a Ship Share (1%) on mustering out. At this point I decide to give up and make her a Traveller.

Vala finishes off with four skills from the Traveller background package, namely Mechanic 1, Sensors 1, Medic 1, and Engineer (Electronics) 1. I see her as a failed entertainer/dancer, ex-Navy line crew, now looking for work in a space port somewhere, aged around 34-35. She has a grudge against a gang that she ran afoul of as a colonist and a stake in a ship. We've got plenty of meat to work with here.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Burning clappers (The Enemy Within)

I'm making an effort to catch up on our plot in our current weekly-ish WFRP game. We are using the Fantasy Flight campaign The Enemy Within, but converted for use with WFRP 2.0. Be warned - I have no idea how much of the plot is from the actual campaign supplement, and how much has been cooked up by our devious GM.

Returning to Middenheim after a successful hunting experience in the forests, we set about arranging for our ritual in the temple of Ulric. We were also approached by Olaf, a local rogue whom Rudiger had contacted for work when the party first arrived in the city. At the time, Rudiger had been looking for tombs to rob, but continued exposure to the obvious threat posed by Chaos has convinced him to turn his back on a life of crime and become a vampire hunter, as you do.

Olaf was proposing that the group got involved in a little witness intimidation. The party agreed to take on the job, but there were a number of dissenting voices, notably Magnar. Still, there was the pressing need to conduct a ritual first.

The ritual to purify the cursed Skaven bell clapper was an elaborate one, to say the least, but von Oppenheim seemed to know what he was doing, right up until the bit where he was consumed by the sacred fire of Ulric, much to our collective surprise. Still, it seems as if the clapper has been purified, if not destroyed. We are keeping it with us, just in case the Skaven make another attempt to steal it.

With the ritual over, we decided to leave Olaf hanging, and head towards Altdorf, the current plan being to hook up with Marcus Bauerfast and / or Luminary Mauer, who we hope will be in the imperial capital with the wounded emperor. En route, we stopped off at the giant lair in the woods.

Thorek was now fully restored to his habitual health and vigour and very keen to try his hand at giant killing. We managed to catch the giant we had tracked earlier, asleep in his cave, and proceeded to attack him. We weren't expecting his buddy to turn up. This was a testing battle in a cave under the forest, but we prevailed, thanks in part to Aelric's increasingly powerful magic, and to the fact that Magnar is clad head to toe in plate mail and is becoming increasingly more difficult to hurt.

Following the slaying of the giants, and Thorek's promotion to Giant Slayer, we pushed on towards Altdorf. En route we reached a bridge, guarded by a black knight, who confidently asserted "None shall pass!" Magnar challenged the knight to single combat. He proved a tough opponent, but, with some covert help from Aelric, he was bested, and his body disintegrated into black sludge. We decided he was an agent of Chaos.

From here we set off to Delberz to seek a boat to take us down river. While there, we heard tell of a series of mysterious murders plaguing the town...I get a little murky at this stage, as the events in Delberz were, I think, played out at the end of the evening, and I was fading after a long week, so you will need to check in with our GM's blog to get the download on our encounters there...

Friday, 7 February 2014

If you go down to the woods today...

Following on from our previous session, where our WFRP campaign finally arrived in Middenheim like the proverbial rock band on tour, we were tasked by Robertus von Oppenheim to travel into the gnarly woods surrounding Middenheim to retrieve the ingredients needed for a ritual at the Temple of Ulric in the city. This would require each member of the party to personally slay - and skin - a wolf, and secondly, we would need the horn of a minotaur.

IIRC - and it has been a while since this session was played - we tethered a goat to lure a pack of wolves into an ambush. The key to this fight was making sure that each member of the party killed a wolf. This included the academic we had in tow. Much hilarity followed with Magnar and Thorek blundering around in the woods tackling wolves with their bare hands as they tried to wrestle one to the ground, so that von Oppenheim could kill it himself. Rudiger, as the token human being in the party, saw very little of this, it being so dark.

With the wolves killed and skinned, we used a hireling (a ranger) to help us track a marauding posse of Chaos Beastmen that were attacking farms in the vicinity. They weren't making much effort to hide their trail. We managed to track them to a clearing containing a desecrated elven shrine, where the Beastmen were preparing a ritual. We noted, with interest, the large minotaur (with three eyes) chained to the shrine.

The attack on the Beastmen went relatively well. Again, IIRC, Thorek was badly wounded and blew his last Fate point to avoid being gutted. The minotaur's third eye, it turned out, could make heroes quail in fear if they failed WP checks, but unlike our earlier battle with the Rat Ogre in Averheim, our lads are now a little more experienced and less likely to be rooted to the spot in terror.

Rudiger found that the combination of a good rural concealment ability and a repeating crossbow could make life very hard for a Beastman shaman trying to bring his magic online. I think it was Magnar who dealt the death blow to the minotaur before it could break free of its chains. During the battle, more Beastmen emerged from the forest and attacked our rear, putting Aelric and Podo (our halfling surgeon) in a slightly tricky situation.

But we prevailed, and looking around a blood-spattered clearing, littered with the remains of dead and dying Beastmen, we realised that our little group of stalwarts was actually becoming quite proficient at the slaughter game. It was only a pity that we didn't seem to be making much money out of it. Rudiger, for one, noted that his funds since arriving in the area were becoming sadly depleted.

On our return to the city, we heard, and subsequently managed to track, a forest giant to his lair. We marked this with interest, as Thorek has sworn to slay a giant. However, our trollslayer was simply too badly wounded after the fight with the Beastmen to now tackle a giant. With reluctance we headed back to Middenheim, knowing we would once again face a toll to enter its hallowed precincts...

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Marauding in Middenheim (The Enemy Within)

We left our heroes struggling to get to Middenheim with the clapper of a bell forged by evil Skaven magic. For those seeking a more detailed account of their exploits, please refer to our GM's blog, which includes artwork(!) For the sake of completeness, I will recount their ongoing adventures here.

Following an attempt by the Skaven to recover the clapper in a raid on a roadside inn, our heroes pressed on to Middenheim, and were ambushed by mounted marauders led by a Chaos Warrior. This led to a short, sharp skirmish in which the two elves, Drandruel and Aelric, performed particularly well, combining magic and archery to fatal effect on the attackers.

While novice WFRP PCs in second edition are vulnerable (and up until now I've only played the game with first or second career PCs), once they move onto the Advanced careers, they become quite a bit tougher. This encounter was the first in which we began to see some of the additional muscle they could bring to the party once once they had all or most of the advances from their second career under their belt.

Take Rudiger, for example. While he started as a Thief (ex-Outlaw), by this stage in the campaign he had already migrated to Tomb Robber and was quickly picking up the advances from that career. His Dodge Blow ability was already north of 50%. Some of Aleric's magic was also becoming more lethal, as he demonstrated in this ambush.

The bodies were duly looted, and Magnar took, IIRC, the Chaos Warrior's armour, to have it re-forged later in Middenheim for his own use. Upon reaching the city, we were charged an entire Gold Crown - EACH - for entry. Those who have played WFRP, with its imperial currency system, will know that this is a far from insignificant sum. This quickly became a drain on the party's cash reserves, as they moved in and out of the city, and was a precursor to many more expenses within its walls.

We hooked up with Robertus von Oppenheim, the university academic which the white wizard Luminary Mauer had said could destroy the evil bell clapper. The good professor was also able to advise Aelric on the iron ring he found in the barrow we raided in Stirland, which has something to do with death magic, again IIRC, but not a surprise really.

A side-quest we had undertaken, from Captain Bauerfaust (?) of the City Watch in Middenheim, was to locate the witch hunter Adele Ketzenblum in Middenheim, and as far as Rudiger could tell, send her his regards. Rudiger thinks the Captain has the hots for Ketzenblum, but seems to be too busy saving the life of the Emperor on the battlefield to come and do his wooing in Middenheim. Ketzenbloom seemed a bit of a cold fish, and we were keen not to spend too much time with her, as we have a mutating wizard in our midst.

To destroy the clapper, an elaborate ritual had to be staged in the temple of Ulric in Middenheim, which would also require some powdered minotaur horn. Luckily, the forests around Middenheim are infested with Chaos beastmen, some of whom also have minotaurs in their midst. We also needed to kill and skin some wolves, something all participants in the ritual would need to do. As the bookish professor von Oppenheim would be taking part in the ritual, this would require him to kill and skin a wolf as well. It was going to be interesting.