Monday, July 6, 2015

Actual Play: Daughters of the Eel (part 2)

Having spotted bone-white bodies scurry just out of sight through the navigation room's window, Herman and Kahl knew they weren't alone on the prison hulk--even if the warden, guards, and prisoners were yet to be discovered. Returning to the quarter deck, the duo decided to explore the rooms beneath the navigation room. An unlocked door revealed a hallway flanked by two doors on each side, a hatch in the floor, and a doorway at the end of the hall. Faint light spilled from underneath the door at the end of the hallway; this was apparently the light they had seen aboard the ship as they approached it by sea. This room seemed to be their best bet for finding the warden, getting the lenses they had been sent to retrieve, and getting off the hulk.

The room at the end of the hallway was furnished in better style than one would expect for a ship; clearly this was the great cabin used by the prison's warden. The room contained a full bed, chests of clothing and other belongings, a desk, and perhaps most oddly, an ornate grandfather clock. (The clock seemed to be a new arrival to the room as a broken-up packing crate lay nearby.) Despite its skillful craftsmanship, there was nothing unusual about the grandfather clock...until the door to the clock's case was opened, that is. Frigid cold seemed to emanate from inside the clock. A wadded up note that appeared to have arrived with the clock perhaps explained its provenance: Just a little something to help you while away the time, Charles. Please remember that lost time is the cost of your betrayal. Love, Vanessa. (1)

As the pair turned to leave the great cabin, Khal felt a shroud of cold-burning darkness descend upon him, bringing agony in its wake. A thin white hand now protruded from underneath the bed, and it seemed to be directing the ruinous cloud of shadow. As the stalwart adventurers prepared to battle this unholy evil, it crept from beneath the bed; their attacker was revealed to be an impossibly-pale woman whose flesh was decorated with occult symbols etched through a process of unhallowed scarification (2). Spells, rapier, and claw met in the dim of battle; Kahl and Herman were triumphant.

A study of the sigils and symbols on the creature's body suggested that she might have been a member of a cult known as the Daughters of the Eel, but at this point little is known about that fell coven (3)

A search of the rooms to the left and right of the hallway discovered that these were the less-lavish rooms used by the prison's guards. Nothing of interest was found within them, so down, down into the bowels of the ship. What had formerly been the orlop deck had been converted into a place of imprisonment. Where sailor's hammocks had once hung were now cells made of rough iron bars. There were no prisoners to be found, however; the iron bed frames that the prisoners would have slept upon were all crumpled into twists of metal wreckage and the floor was encrusted with dried blood.

At the end of the deck was a small room. Above the door to the room was nailed a crude holy symbol, which Kahl recognized as belonging to a faith friendly to his own (4). Perhaps some pious soul had provided for a way for the prisoners to pray for their own salvation while they served their sentences. Inside the room were a few wooden pews and an altar, upon which stood a much-used book of scripture. An investigation of the altar revealed that among the votive candles, incense, and religious pageantry was a leather case...containing two red lenses and two blue. The object of their mission was now in hand!

Toying about with the lenses, Herman made a dreadful discovery: while using the red lenses revealed nothing, using the blue lenses revealed that there were three more pale, scarred women clinging chameleon-like to the walls by the stairs. And the women were beginning to clamber down and approach this makeshift chapel...



Friday, July 3, 2015

All Weal Little Woe (VIII. Malifaux)

Malifaux is a skirmish-level fantasy war game set at the end of the Victorian era. However, the setting isn't a magicked-up version of our earth; rather, a breach had been discovered that led to another world that is rich in a valuable, supernatural substance, which has now been colonized by ne'er-do-wells, opportunists, and transported criminals. The overall aesthetic is a mash-up of things I like: Gothic horror, weird west gunslingers, and outlandish steampunk inventions. If they ever add pirates I will assume they've been scanning my brain while I sleep.

Despite being a war game, the way the setting is deployed in the rule books has something to offer rpg world builders as well. (And there is an rpg, Through the Breach, that came along later.) The city of Malifaux isn't described in terms of heavy detail; the game bills itself as a character-driven skirmish game, and that is exactly where the setting focus lies. Most of the descriptive heft is given to the various factions that fight for dominance throughout the city and its greater environs. There are renegade sorcerers who run the Miners and Steamfitters Union, the triad-like Ten Thunders, the monopolistic Guild that owns the law of the land, nightmarish Lovecraftian beings who wish the repel the colonizers, etc. 

The emphasis in Malifaux isn't on history or geographic detail, it's on the movers and shakers. Of course, this makes perfect sense in a miniatures war game, as the publisher wants you to buy a faction of little men and monsters to assemble and paint, but that's also something to keep in mind when working on a role-playing-focused setting: the layout of the setting, the number and size of the capital's aqueducts, and the yearly yield of grain is all subordinate to the way people organize themselves, what their schemes are, and who is willing to kill who right now.

Anyway, a Malifaux art dump:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Monsters of Arksylvania: Kirk Grim

Not all undead in Arksylvania are the enemies of mankind. Arksylvanian folklore maintains that the first person to be buried in a sanctified graveyard has their soul bound to the land and becomes a kirk grim. In times of trouble, their shade rises from the hallowed earth to defend the populace from the damned and depraved.

Stat suggestion: Revenant; anyone attacking their church or its parishioners counts as someone the revenant has sworn vengeance against.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Actual Play: Daughters of the Eel (part 1)

After their rescue from the horrible lighthouse of Doctor Reichmann by a somewhat less-than-above-board crew of sailors, Kahl and Herman found themselves at the town of Blighter's Manse. Blighter's Manse, a port town known for being a haven for maritime criminals, provides ample opportunities to make quick coin for two stranded adventurers. Following the word on the street, the two sought a little temporary employment with Gentleman Jim, a tavern owner with his hand in the local midnight economy.

The Rended Ewe, Gentleman Jim's establishment, turned out to be a rough waterfront tavern. The pair were ushered upstairs to Jim's office where they found a lanky, nervous man attempting to wear his mismatched clothes in what passes for style in a pirate-infested town. It seems they had come to Jim at just the right moment; he was in need of a couple discreet souls to row out to one of the prison hulks anchored offshore and retrieve an item that had been stashed among the convicts--a place no one would think to look for an object of value (1). Besides, Gentleman Jim explained, it is customary for ne'er-do-wells new to Blighter's Manse to run an errand for the established brokers just to show that they're mindful of how things are run in the town.

The item in question was a leather case that holds multicolored glass lenses (2). They were given a letter of mark to explain the situation to the prison hulk's warden. Should be an easy job: go out to the prison hulk, meet with the prison's warden, get the lenses, row back, put the lenses into Jim's hand. Twenty-five pieces of gold now, twenty-five more upon their return. An easy night's work, eh?

Jim arranged a boat for them, which was to be rowed by a man named Petrus. Petrus was an old dog of the sea--scrawny and on his last legs, but born to the oars. He said little as he rowed the duo out to the prison hulk, and seemed to ignore Kahl's proselytizing and religious hectoring. The few words Petrus had to trade were about Vanessa, a powerful woman who called the shots on behalf of Blighter's Manse's burgomaster. They were warned that she is not someone you want to cross.

As they approached the ship they saw that in a former life it has been a third-rate ship of some naval force, but was currently in a state of ill repair. Each of the ship's three masts had been sawed off, rendering it unseaworthy. Furthermore, each of the gun ports were empty of cannon; the shutter of each port had been replaced with stout iron bars--presumably to keep the prisoners within. The name in faded paint upon the prow read "The Harrow" (3).

Petrus tied the rowboat to the weighted rope ladder slung over the side of the ship's main deck and vowed to remain below while Herman and Kahl went to retrieve the object of their errand. Once aboard the ship, they headed aft, climbing the stairs to the sterncastle deck where they discovered a room that had formerly been the navigation room. Now empty of sextons and charts--with only a few torn and useless maps remaining on the table--the room seemed to be a dead end and the ship was beginning to appear to be not as inhabited as perhaps it should be.

As they left the navigation room in search of the warden and the mysterious lenses, they caught sight of movement across the room's windows--bone-white limbs, scurrying across the ship's hull.

Kahl and Herman weren't alone on the ship after all.



Friday, June 26, 2015

All Weal Little Woe (VII. The Art of Ignacio Fernandez Rios)

All of Ignacio Fernandez Rios's art is interesting, but I want to focus on this particular set of images I discovered while working on Wunderspire.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Monsters of Arksylvania: Black Shuck

Black Shuck is a demonic hound that roams the coastline and countryside of Arksylvania. Though Black Shuck is a danger to all who fall into his path, he has an especial taste for the flesh of clerical men and women; Black Shuck has been known to burst the door of a church or monastery to devour all the pious souls within.

Stat suggestions: Hell Hound is the obvious choice, but for a higher-level Black Shuck the Nalfeshnee (demon) appeals to me.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Campaign Rules for Arksylvania and Wunderspire

How do you shape the "feel" of a campaign without radically changing the mechanics of a game system? I reckon it is best done through a mixture of flavor-reskinning, add-on/drop-out rules modules of the sort that 5th edition D&D has, and the sort of permissions you give players about what kind of characters they can play.

I want to give Arksylvania and Wunderspire different feels in play, but I don't want to use different systems right now, so 5e it is. Below are the kind of additions and reskinnings that I want to use to make them seem like different play experiences. I'm curious to see how it will work out: 

Campaign Rules for Arksylvania and Wunderspire

  • All of the races in the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide are fair game for Arksylvania and Wunderspire.
  • The variant human race in the PHB is also available should you prefer it.
  • All of the races in the Unearthed Arcana articles and Elemental Evil Player's Companion are available, particularly in Wunderspire as it is a city of many diverse peoples.
  • If your race has less than +3 total ability score modifiers, add another point to one of the ability scores you get a bonus to.
  • For Arksylvania, substitute any of the following for whatever PHB languages you would normally have: Old Ellem, Palavari, Szavokian, Taz, Vallach, Verbis Diablo.
  • In addition to the classes in the PHB, also available are the variants from the various Unearthed Arcana articles.
Ability Scores
  • You can use random roll, allocate 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8 as you see fit, or use the variant “point buy” method to generate your character's ability scores.
  • Arksylvania features pistols and muskets.
  • Wunderspire features revolvers, hunting rifles, and shotguns.
  • All classes are proficient with firearms. (This one is subject to change, I think, but I haven't worked it out yet.)

  • Feats are available in both campaigns.
  • Since both Arksylvania and Wunderspire are settings that feature firearms, the following feats are also available:
Thanks to extensive practice with firearms, you gain the following benefits:
• You ignore the loading and reloading qualities of firearms with which you are proficient.
• Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls.
• When you use the Attack action and attack with a one-handed weapon, you can use a bonus action to attack with a loaded pistol you are holding.

Once per turn when you roll damage for a ranged weapon attack, you can reroll the weapon’s damage dice and use either total.

Arksylvania-Specific Rules
  • We'll be using the fear, horror, and madness rules from the DMG.

Wunderspire-Specific Rules
  • We'll be using the Hero Points rules from the DMG: a character starts with 5 hero point at 1st level. When you gain a level, you gain a new total equal to 5 + half the character's level. Hero points can be spent to add a d6 to an attack roll, an ability check, or a saving throw, or to turn failure on a death saving throw into a success.