Monday, 30 November 2015

D&D Background: Tavern Brawl Veteran

You are a former tavern brawler; you made a living fighting in an organised tavern brawl league, where rival taverns send teams of thugs to fight against each other, either in the streets or in the taverns and inns of the realm. It is part sport, part gang violence, a past time for aggressive thugs and street loiterers, members of gangs, and the occasional bored adventurer.

A tavern will typically build an informal team of 'brawlers' who will take part in these fights. There are few rules, although use of weapons and magic is generally frowned upon, and can lead to the expulsion of a given establishment from a league.

There are many reasons for a team to be created - some are sponsored by criminals who wish to keep their henchmen busy or test out new recruits, other leagues help to determine beer prices, bragging rights or to settle old feuds and rivalries without too many people getting maimed.

Skill Proficiencies: Athletics, Intimidation

Distinguishing Marks

Tavern brawling is a hard life. While the beer is free, many former members of leagues carry the marks of their careers upon their bodies.

  1. One eye
  2. Missing 1d4 fingers
  3. Livid scar across face
  4. Team tattoos
  5. Broken nose
  6. Missing teeth
Feature: Tavern Born

You spent a lot of time in pubs, either fighting, relaxing between fights, or preparing for the next fight. You were a local hero for the regular patrons of your tavern. Not only can you usually out drink anyone else, you are very familiar with tavern culture and can negotiate a free beer, talk your way past bouncers, or be the first to sense when trouble is brewing. When necessary, you can also use your natural environment to blend in among the other tavern patrons.

Suggested Characteristics

Tavern brawlers can be dour and sinister, or the life and soul of the party. They are not necessarily natural born killers, but they are usually competitive in the extreme, and can get bored easily. A quiet tavern is one without a brawl. A tavern with a brawl is a more entertaining place to be.

 d8 Personality Traits

  1. I'm not afraid to use my fists - or other weapons - to speak for me.
  2. Good ale, and good friends, are what life is all about.
  3. I've taken brawling as far as it is going to get me - I'm ready for the big time.
  4. Organised violence is like any other commodity - it has a price. What have you got?
  5. Life can get too quiet if you let it: when things get boring, it is time to stir them up a bit.
  6. I find my best decisions are made after a few pints of Old Gorgruk's Finest.
  7. Don't make me angry; you won't like me when I'm angry.
  8. Just because I look like someone stamped all over me doesn't mean I can't be trusted.
d6 Ideals

  1. Community. Every tavern is a community - it is not about the building, it is about the people that drink there.
  2. Fairness.It may look like chaos, but there are still rules. Without rules, you have true chaos.
  3. Tradition.You have to stick to the traditions of your team, your league. It is what makes you.
  4. Might. Only the strongest are going home with the booze, lads.
  5. Greed. I'm sure your tavern has lovely beer, but let's see the colour of your gold.
  6. Live and let live.One season you could be stamping on his face, the next he's the one taking a bottle for you.
d6 Bond

  1.  My team may be scattered to the four corners of the realm, but that doesn't mean we can't look out for each other.
  2. A few landlords owe me favours, be it food or a roof for the night.
  3. I left organised brawling after I killed a man; his team mates all swore an oath of vengeance against me.
  4. My old manager still owes me for last season; when I catch up with him, there's going to be trouble.
  5. My twin brother and I used to brawl for the same team; now I'm out, but he still brawls for a living. Occasionally, we get mistaken for each other.
  6. Some landlords still try to lure me back into brawling, or offer me a job as a coach. Once in a while I'm tempted to take on a short term job.
d8 Flaw

  1. After a couple of ales, I'm ready to rumble.
  2. I'm simply not a team player, much as I've tried over the years. I've made a bad name for myself in professional tavern brawling circles as a result.
  3. I still see double after Bogri Ballcrusher stamped on my head at the Blue Unicorn.
  4. I can't take anyone who isn't built like a barn that seriously.
  5. After my last match, I swore an oath never to go into a tavern again.
  6. People are intimidated by my boyish good looks - maybe it's the scar tissue? I don't notice it myself, but others do.
  7. I don't mind dishing out a bit of violence for the sport's sake, but I'm not a killer.
  8. I had a short term career as a tavern brawl manager - until my team was beaten by some halflings. My infamy has spread far and wide. I may have to change my name...

Friday, 27 November 2015

D&D Background - Halfling Pickler

You come from a long and proud line of picklers of fine condiments. You are a halfling, of good stock, with the halfling's superior knowledge of food, particularly the fruits and vegetables of temperate climes.

You may be an independent trader, or part of a larger clan, supporting each other with information and business contacts. But pickling is your main trade - at home, family members work long hours to provide you with the small jars of condiments, both sweet and savoury, which you carry with you.

You like to think you have a brand now, that your name is synonymous with tasty sauces, relishes and jams. The children come out to beg you for free tastings when you enter villages. But your quest for new recipes, new substances to preserve, that is your real passion.

Skill Proficiencies: Medicine, Perception

Specialty Pickles

 Every pickler has his own specialist menu of pickles. Not for him your bog standard apple sauce or mint jam. No, the true servant of the art goes beyond these, into the realms of true esoterica of the jar.

  1. Deep fried beetles, marinaded in bull's blood
  2. Chilli so fiery it could kill you
  3. Reptile tongues
  4. Fermented goat saliva
  5. Minotaur sweetmeats
  6. Candied gorgon eyes

Feature: A Well-Developed Palate

A good pickler needs to have a grasp of what he is pickling. Hence, your knowledge of herbs and spices is legendary. You are a great cook, but can easily strike up a conversation with farmers and merchants about any food they are selling.  In addition, just by examining and maybe tasting an apple or a jar of dried prunes, you can sometimes tell where it was grown and when, and sometimes even by whom. Finally, when required, you can draw on your family network of fellow picklers for information - when you cross paths with them.

Suggested Characteristics

Picklers are merchants on the one hand, but also secretive, as they closely guard their recipes, often handed down over generations and won at great cost to their creators. A good pickler will be approachable and gregarious on the surface, but driven by insatiable greed for more culinary knowledge at another level.

d8 - Personality Trait

  1.  I am loyal to my customers, but only to those who fully appreciate me.
  2. I am devoted to my art, but money comes first.
  3. The world is a large place, and full of interesting things to pickle.
  4. My family has made me what I am - I owe them everything.
  5. Many people have not yet tasted the heights to which expert pickling can elevate their taste buds - I am determined to bring them enlightenment.
  6. I will not brook criticism of my pickles from oderous ignorami.
  7. The open road is the place to be; walls and roofs are a prison than can suffocate me.
  8. I have been cast out from my clan for deviating too far from accepted norms of food preservation and must find a way to redeem myself.

d6 Ideal

  1. Glory. To become recognised as one of the immortal High Picklers through perfecting my art.
  2. Freedom. To roam the world and taste new ingredients, that is true independence of spirit.
  3. People. With out people, there are no customers. Without customers, there is no pickling.
  4. Aspiration. Pickling is both profession and art - I must live up to its ancient ideals.
  5. Creativity. New recipes demand experimentation with new ingredients, but this is the true test of the master.
  6. Community. My fellow picklers are a ready source of help when times are hard; I must give back to them when I am able, sharing my good fortune with them.
d6 Bond

  1. My family has made me what I am - I owe them everything.
  2. I once poisoned a wealthy customer by mistake with an experimental recipe - his family still hunts me.
  3. I stole a recipe from my uncle once - he still doesn't know, but guilt drives me to make recompense.
  4. An evil monster has become a client of mine - I still sometimes meet him secretly to sell him spicy rat tails. 
  5. I once dreamed of an orchard with plums the size of fists. The vision stays with me still - I am sure it exists somewhere. Imagine the jam you could make!
  6. My comrades are more important than pickling - but only just.

d6 Flaw

  1. Pickling sometimes requires alcohol to preserve the food - sadly I've become too fond of it.
  2. My fondness for pickling has led to a fondness for baking too. I must keep my secret.
  3. I am a poor excuse for a pickler - I try to hold my own by buying others' pickles, and putting my own labels on them. The shame haunts me.
  4. Despite my success, I cannot make apple sauce, no matter how hard I try. It is becoming an obsession.
  5. I have an intolerance to sugar.
  6.  I quest obsessively for rare and exotic ingredients; nothing can divert me from my course. It has alienated my friends and family.

Monday, 23 November 2015

We play Manhattan Project

I finally managed to get around to giving The Manhattan Project from Minion Games a go last weekend. Indeed, it has taken two weekends to properly get under the skin of the game. We played with two players without the expansions - i.e. just the basic game.

The Manhattan Project is about racing to build atom and hydrogen bombs. It is a worker placement game. I didn't really understand what that was, but having played Lords of Waterdeep, I can now see the similarities between the two.

Players have a limited supply of workers. including general workers, scientists and engineers. These can complete tasks on a central board, as well as on buildings you control. In Waterdeep, the workers are clerics, fighters, wizards, etc. Unlike Waterdeep, Manhattan Project lets players keep most of their workers by recycling them back into your pool - however, this ends up being your sole action for the turn, so is not done without serious consideration. There are also contract workers that can be employed temporarily, but like the ronin in Shogun, go home once the job is done.

To win, the aim is to accumulate victory points, as in most eurogames. These are achieved by building and testing bombs and weaponising them by loading them onto bombers (for +5 VPs).

Buildings work slightly differently from Waterdeep - while they can be acquired from a limited menu of building cards that is regularly replenished, once you have a building - e.g. a university or a factory - you control it and nobody else can use it, unless they make use of the espionage option.

This latter provides you with the ability to add to your espionage capacity in the course of a game, letting you make use of other players' buildings. It can be an effective blocking action, as dropping a worker on another player's plutonium reactor, for example, can stop him for producing plutonium while that worker is in situe.

Another twist is the use of bombers and fighters. Bombers have dual uses - to conduct air strikes against other players' buildings and to carry A-bombs. It is important to note that at no point do the nuclear weapons actually get used in The Manhattan Project  - once a bomb is designed and built, and conceivably armed on a bomber, the VPs are scored and that's it. You're done.

Fighters are a protective shield against bombers, but once brushed aside by other fighters, it is possible for another player to punish you severely with air strikes.

In my case, I suffered dismally with a massive air strike which demolished my production capacity. It is very, very hard to conduct repairs in this game. It is expensive, and there is only one repair action, which, once occupied, is closed to you. A player can bomb your buildings and block the repair action, leaving you no option but to construct new plant. I had a lovely uranium mine put out of action this way.

Hence, it is critical that players keep tabs on their fighter screens and other players' fighter screens. After VPs, these are probably the most important factors on display. If you leave yourself vulnerable here, you will be punished and it will hurt you.

Overall, this game feels very similar to Waterdeep. Owners of Waterdeep probably don't need The Manhattan Project, unless they love worker placement games generally. I don't own Waterdeep as a physical game, nor any other similar worker placement games, so this does fit neatly into my collection. I also love playing Waterdeep, and enjoy Manhattan Project for similar reasons.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Book of the Month - The Axeman's Jazz

The Axeman's Jazz, by newcomer Ray Celestin, is a crime novel set in New Orleans in 1919. Given my interest in the Big Easy between the wars, as I continue to run a Deadlands Noir campaign there, this was a natural for me to pick up and read.

The tale is inspired by the real life murders of the so-called Axeman in New Orleans straight after the end of the First World War. The time is one where veterans are returning from a conflict abroad, and Prohibition looms on the horizon. Louisiana is a state with powerful racial divisions, where many people of mixed background struggle to make their way in society. At the same time, it is a place where musicians in particular can earn a good living, regardless of colour. New Orleans is still considered by the characters in the book as more tolerant than some of the other southern states.

While the Axeman murders were real, he was never caught, despite even leaving a letter for the police. The killer also inspired a jazz tune, by Joseph John Davilla, after he left a letter at one crime scene claiming that locals would only be safe "if a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned." This apparently created one of the biggest party nights in the history of the city as fearful citizens took this as an opportunity to get together to drink and dance.

The book looks at the case from three perspectives - that of a homicide detective assigned to the case, his former colleague - a bent cop who has just been released from prison up state, and finally a secretary working at the Pinkerton detective agency who decides to do some investigation of her own. Each approaches the killings from a different point of view, and uncovers facets of the case known only to them. Celestin obviously introduces his own take on the identity of the killer and why the victims were slain.

The plot is a complex one - because of the different lines of investigation, I did find myself flipping back and forth through the book, as the writer often leaves a character alone for three or four chapters, then jumps back to them. In addition, the real-life personality of Lewis Armstrong is introduced as a friend of Ida Davis, the Pinkerton secretary, who aids her in her search for the Axeman. His is a fourth perspective. At twenty years old, Armstrong was just getting established in 1919, and left New Orleans for Chicago a couple of years later.

The book was useful for me in helping to flesh out the character of the Big Easy at this time in its history. It was certainly a melting pot of races and cultures unlike any other in the United States, and both tolerant and intolerant in its own way. Many different communities rubbed shoulders, including the French Creoles and the newcomers like the Irish and Italians. In my Deadlands game I wondered whether I was over-egging the power and prevalence of the Black Hand Sicilian crime syndicate, or the emphasis they placed on Sicilian lineage for promotion to their highest ranks, but I think I have got it just about right. Their love of restaurants and barber shops as places for their foot soldiers to hang out in is right on the mark.

The Axeman's Jazz is a violent saga of carnage, exploitation and atrocity, with the titular Axeman just one of the personalities up to his elbows in gore. At one stage, for example, police torture a suspect to death in an old lunatic asylum and then incinerate his body, while at another a character is beaten to a pulp by a man he wrongly convicted. There is also a brutal gun battle between the mob and a pair of cops that is very reminiscent of the climax of LA Confidential. It is pretty visceral stuff.

I'm hoping to be returning to my New Orleans campaign soon, and I feel this novel has done much to help me with additional background colour and ideas. The city certainly sounds like an interesting place for RPGs and one I hope to visit someday in real life and perhaps in gaming (e.g. with Trail of Cthulhu).

Ironically, the last few chapters of The Axeman's Jazz take place during a freak storm which flooded large parts of the city with considerable loss of live, as levees intended to protect the town collapsed. At the time then mayor Martin Behrman told citizens that, thanks to his program of repairs and further infrastructure, this sort of disaster would never befall New Orleans again!