Saturday, 28 August 2010

inns & taverns: the goblin's head

The Goblin's Head is solidly-built, a long two-storey stone building amid taller wooden tenements at the corner of a street of smiths.  The rooftop is thickly thatched, ivy clings to the walls in defiance of soot.  The inn sign is wrought black iron letters hung by chains with a tarred goblin's head.  This ghoulish decoration stands from a tradition of trading goblin heads for ale during a siege.  The inn occasionally has adventurers try to cash in heads for ale though most are turned away.  Entrances at each end lead to the ground floor and stairs going up. The backyard and cellar of the Goblin's Head are hidden from view by neighbouring tenements and are guarded by a large, well-fed black mastiff with a scarred throat that doesn't bark.

Inside is well-appointed, the floors are flagstones strewn with sawdust and plastered walls are painted with murals of smiths at hammer and anvil and drinkers lifting tankards.  The ceiling is low enough to be cosy without injuring the tall.  Numerous booths provide seating and the bar runs the length of the building.  Upstairs, there is no bar but numerous small chambers separated by panels of black wrought-iron.  These permit some privacy while letting patrons and staff see who's available.  The panels are heavy and ornate, bolted to ceiling and floor to stop their removal although a couple of them show signs of having been bent by someone attempting to impress with their brawn.  Such behaviour is frowned on and usually leads to barring.

The inn serves a number of ales, some brewed on premises, some traded in.  Among them is a potent yet sweet pale ale favoured by forgeworkers, a darker nut-brown ale favoured by traders and in the autumn, a pale elderflower beer often given to sweethearts. Other drinks sold include a dry elderberry genever distilled on premises and a competent cornwine.  Food is famously not served here, rather local pie traders are invited to wander the floors, offering their wares to those in need.  The locals usually spot a good pie-seller "...from a throat-cutter." and are quick to recommend particular sellers based on their own experiences. 

The landlord, unsurprisingly is a dwarf.  What is surprising is that his head is clean-shaven but his full beard is red, oiled and styled in ringlets so that it looks like his chin is on fire.  Hidden among this magnificence are a number of tindertwigs.  The oil prevents accidental ignition but he has been known to light those tindertwigs when angry so he seems part azer when confronting trouble.  His relentless energy in brewing and skill in doing so makes the Goblin's Head popular despite it's unsavoury sign.  His staff know a good deal when they see it and his fairness and generosity to them is repaid by diligent service and genuine pleasure at seeing customers.  Troublemakers are given one warning and then barred, his memory for faces is exceptional.

No accommodation is offered though Akarsen will quarter those overcome by ale in the courtyard where the silent mastiff will greet their hangover the next morning with a slobbering tongue.  This has led to some neighbours claiming that the Head shepherds drunks at holidays but such rumours are malicious gossip at best.  The watch is rarely called to the Head, often to deal with belligerent outlanders trying to cash in goblin heads or to console someone who has believed the rumour that the goblin's head has cursed them with bad luck.  The head has no power to do so beyond that of drunken rumour though sometimes a piece may fall off to land in the lowered hood of a cloak, an open bag or the folds of a garment resulting in an evil, evil smell.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

talislanta revitalised

Back in April, I posted a link to the the Talislanta website.  Since then, the site has grown (just a bit!) and if you're a fan of weird high fantasy, take a look at recent developments.  Some items may be of particular interest to those looking for something a bit more unusual. Both the artwork and the cartography were something that Talislanta were strong on. Talislanta always managed a combination of quirky (like this list of in-game collectible items) and dramatic that would be well-suited to some Old School Renaissance tinkering.  Even if the setting isn't for you, there's a plethora of assets and ideas for the looting complete with d20/OGL conversions for those Pathfinder addicts to remix. If you want an example of how rich this setting is, take a look at The Piazza, a world-building forum for RPGs which has it's own Talislanta sub-forum where a developer or two are known to haunt.  Talislanta has been described as one of the most under-rated RPGs and certainly from the materials I've seen, there is excellent gaming material ripe for the taking.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

the eagle society

Nature inspires warriors to greatness, this is especially true of the eagle society.  Formed from wise warriors swift in thought and decisive action, the society attracts nobles and noble souls.  For them, the eagle is a symbol of strength and regal power, it's wings bearing it above others and talons bringing swift ruin to it's prey.  The eagle society has always punished that they see as unjust.  Elves appreciate the eagle's nobility and freedom while dwarves consider the eagle a worthy design.  Humans, half-elves, half-orcs and eladrin also consider eagle societies beneficial.  Halflings are ambivalent, considering them a little too bombastic and self-righteous for their own good.

Eagle societies welcome clerics, fighters, paladins, rangers, warlords, avengers, barbarians and warders among their ranks.  Arcane practitioners are traditionally viewed with suspicion by members.  Their battles against unjust wielders of elemental chaos make bitter memories.  More than one society has become a religious mystery cult or an order of knights.  Decoration with eagle feathers is an emblem of honour among society members, the eagle helm is a token of a proven warrior and battle leader while the regalia of the winged victory is awarded to those whose skill and deadliness with a javelin are proven and whose ability to heal wounds enable their allies to fight another day.

Feathered Warrior
Requisites: Proficient in javelin.  Have the Athletics skill. 
To become a member of an eagle society, the character must pass a trial armed only with three javelins and no other equipment.  This typically involves three successful attacks against a moving target (AC17) and three successful DC20 Athletics checks.
Benefits: Gain +1 to attack rolls with a weapon when positioned above your opponent.  This includes mounted attacks against pedestrian opponents.
Duties: Once every lunar cycle enter combat and be on the winning side.  If you fail to do this, you lose the benefits of being a feathered warrior until you pass the trial again.

The victor of the battle is given a helmet styled in the likeness of an eagle's head. This helm is decorated with eagle feathers and may vary in appearance and materials from a leather and wood open helm festooned with eagle feathers to a knight's closed helm with beaked visor and eagle feathers plume.
Requisites: Far Throw, slay an opponent with a javelin.
Benefits: While wearing the helmet gain a +1 to their Armour Class and Will.
Duties: Three times every lunar year lead three warriors with the intent of making them feathered warriors.  Once every lunar year lead three feathered warriors to victory in battle.

Winged Victory
Requisites: Point-Blank Shot, Heal skill.  Slay six enemies in one day of battle using javelins and have this witnessed by society members of any rank.  
Benefits: While wearing the winged victory regalia, gain a +2 to Will and a +1 to Heal checks. 
Duties: Twice a lunar year, lead three eagle-helms and their attendant feathered warriors to victory in battle.

Friday, 20 August 2010

flattening the learning curve

This month's RPG Blog Carnival is courtesy of Evil Machinations where Jade has broached the subject of teaching others how to role play.  Articles on what is roleplaying, how to bring new players in, how to play a character, how to run a game.  Yet new players aren't the only ones.  Experienced gamers wanting to try something new can also need help wrapping their head around specific rule sets or game settings, particularly if the rules need duct tape,  The presence of books like Dungeons & Dragons for Dummies and D&D Player Strategy Guide suggest this learning curve may not be gentle - even with the incoming D&D Essentials line. 

Confidence is key.  As with many things involving confidence, use of judicious preparation can be your friend.  Not everyone starts out fully conversant and intimately familiar with a rule system like Athena springing from Zeus's brow.  Equally those demanding intimate knowledge of a game system (especially a new one) from their GM violate Wheaton's Fifth Rule (unsafe for work link), to summarise - don't be a dick, quit your bitching and have some fun.
  • Page Markers for the pages in your books that keep being referred to.  If you're not a collector, these save you plenty of time leafing through books.  If you are, you have a reference copy right?
  • Cheatsheets for commonly used rules and references and fitting things like movement & combat basics on one side of A4 forces you to trim excess baggage.  Making them look good helps, too much information can be distracting and difficult to use.  Some are blessed with so many options that they have to do this for each character.
  • Frequently Asked Questions don't have to be in web or electronic format.  If the same questions keep coming up, it's worth writing the answers down. It saves time and it keeps things consistent if you can't always remember the difference which combat actions are move and which are minor.
Creating and using these materials will help to familiarise you with the rules you invested in.  This will increase your familiarity with the rules and enable you to check spot rulings quickly.  This enables you to create better and more enjoyable games with fewer jarring breaks over rule calls and more importantly, reduces the time to achieve consensus around the table.  Got examples of cheat sheets or links to good FAQs, please post them in the comments!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

recession-proof gaming X: pixel-stained technopeasant revolt

Image courtesy of Drollerie Press
More financiapocalyptic musings means it's time to look at what makes  good gaming without breaking the bank (assuming the banks don't do a good enough job themselves) and for those in post-GenCon hock, this may be a good thing.  This edition is dedicated to Jo Walton whose books are worth your consideration.  From such stone soup can spring some neat games. 

5x5 - Action-based system toolkit.  Anime-style artwork and a smooth template system. 
Clockwork - Steampunk cowboys.  On one page.  You can't say fairer than that.
Mini Six Bare Bones - Open D6, cinematic in the vein of Star Wars but much more to it.  Remember when West End Games put out all those movie tie-ins?  Hack your own version.  Anti-Paladin Games needs more submitted settings and an Inception-based Mini Six would be interesting.

Game maps

Drag and drop map generators at Stone Sword. provides free terrain maps for RPGs and wargames.
A lot of free high-quality maps at Paratime Design Cartography.

Online Dungeon Generators (brought by the letters D and G it seems).
Dizzy Dragon Games Adventure Generator - Several shades of geomorph and OSR awesome. 
Donjon - Dungeon and Encounter generator in d20 and 4E flavours.
Gozzy's Dungeon Generator -  For those who like their dungeons unpopulated.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

inns & taverns: the crooked roost

A rickety, tarred wooden shack balanced on the ruin of an abandoned tower in the poor quarter decorated with baskets of flowers.  It lurks some thirty feet over the streets it serves. The sign is faded but shows a fighting cock dressed with hood and barbed spurs.  The Roost is reached by climbing, those who need it are lowered a rope ladder.  The Crooked Roost is not the tallest (or most luxurious) structure yet the view is spectacular.  Pigeons roost in the eaves of the tower, where the Roost clings like mistletoe to an apple tree and street children as fallen apples begging at the base. Few other than children dare the climb during the day due to the Roost's unsavoury reputation but evening and night are a different story with solitary patrons routinely making the ascent.  The Roost is not spoken of in polite company.

Entering the Roost is done by a trapdoor in the center of the floor.  At the north wall is a simple hearth where a carefully covered fire keeps the inn warm and a corner bar next to it with a door behind it to a back room.  Inside the shack has walls patched by scraps of dark fabric lined with pigeon feathers, giving the walls a strange quilted look yet which prevents drafts yet which doesn't smell claustrophobic.  Shutters in the ceiling and walls provide light while at night, each corner is lit by a strategically placed bell jar of oily, straw-coloured liquid.  If swirled, they emit a cold white-green light like a thousand crushed fireflies for an hour.  Each is swirled routinely by a local though sometimes, a corner will go dark.  The Roost is not large, it can hold nine in comfort and fifteen in tight conditions. Furnishings are rough-hewn or old as old can get without being dilapidated.  Patrons are all well-behaved, unobtrusive and people who you'd meet in the street but forget a few moments later.  This is not a wealthy inn and wealthy visitors often feel out of place.  Regulars are scrupulously well-behaved, if you are thrown out of the Roost, there is no rope ladder - just a drop.

The selection of drinks is limited to say the least.  The Roost serves rough brandy, an earthy parnsip wine and a thick yellow advocaat served with a scrimshaw spoon.  Sometimes a barrel of beer will find it's way to the Roost and those regulars that the landlord likes are invited to a lock-in where everyone uses the rope ladder going back down.  There is a pan of broth on continuously, for a copper you can serve yourself a bowl and this is often attended by the landlord, Naul.  Naul is a grizzled, poker-faced man with expressive hands who smells of tarred bread.  His voice occasionally cracks when he speaks.  Those looking for a place to sleep in the Roost are treated to mockery.  "My little roost is no flophouse friend and I sleep alone."  Even those the worst for wear are lowered down to sleep it off at the foot of the tower, at the mercy of the children there.

Though the tower is dilapidated, the occasional attempt to collect taxes from Naul takes place.  The usual scenario involves a child scampering up the ladder and any ladder or ropes being pulled up.  The officials are then pelted with stones from the children (who are well versed in scattering and hiding) and accidentally greeted with the occasional emptying of a chamber pot or bucket from above - the effectiveness of this has prevented taxation for nearly seven years.  While Naul has been accused of being a fence and worse, nothing has ever been proven.  He inherited the Roost in a card game - apparently the third Naul to inherit the Roost.  He works diligently to keep the Roost open and the children at the foot of the tower safe.  Though he seems indifferent to their plight, Naul is very interested in his charges.  As spies and informants, they can often get into places most won't and notice conspicuous new arrivals.

Monday, 9 August 2010

open game table volume 2

DISCLAIMER: See cover for details.

If you ask me for a benefit of blogging, I'd say working on collaborative projects like this.  Open Game Table is an anthology of blog posts voted for and reviewed by peers - a collection of fine RPG blogosphere items.  If you're starting out on blogging about RPGs and want to see how good it can get or feeling your fires burning low, take a look in here.  What you'll find are some stunning insights into how to make games fun, a sentiment echoed by the foreword, written by Justin Achilli.  If you get an opportunity to work on something like this, take it with both hands and run.  Not only do you contribute, you  learn in doing.  Peer reviewing posts makes you apply that scrutiny to your stuff and (hopefully!) makes you a better blogger.  Hats off to Jonathan Jacobs for the heroic work put into making it happen.

The cynical may ask "OK, why would I buy this?  I can just access the blog feeds right?"  Here's the thing - blogs are sometimes more fragile than books.  Posts vanish, authors hang up their shingle and the Wayback Machine isn't perfect.  Having seen blogs on my feed join the blogosphere invisibule (to mangle a Parrot Joke reference), owning a copy means you can come back to stuff even if the worst happens.  And if it doesn't, you're not trawling Google Reader for nuggets - you can just turn the page or if you've got a PDF, use the search facility.  Also, each article has a web address to the article so you can see it (and the comments that follow) before editing. Now that is a web enhancement and shows the craft of the editorial team in action.

The visual feel is reminiscent of Flying Buffalo's classic Grimtooth series, the cover art may appear steampunk but don't be fooled, there is something for everyone in here, from the hoariest grognard to the indie designer to the new arrival looking to expand their horizons. The contributions are diverse stuff, from interviews with Dave Arneson, Robin Laws and Jonathan Roberts through campaign design and play style to encouraging new players and gaming with children.  The section on 4E is a worthy successor to the D&D Players Strategy Guide and has the added bonus of new monsters and an NPC.  Even the humorous articles have elements of how to make a better game sown in them.  In short, buy if you want a lot of good content - and if you're buying in PDF and don't own volume 1, take a look at this bundle.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

three things: rubies

Eye of Courage - This scintillating ruby pendant worn around the neck and over the heart inspires bravery in those who see it.  Those wearing it are immune to fear-based effects and grant a +4 morale bonus to Will saves against fear-based attacks to allies in a 10' radius who see the owner and the ruby.
Market Value: 35,000gp
Creation: Caster level 3rd, create wondrous item, remove fear, inspire courage
or aura of courage class ability.

Martyr's Heart - Cut in the shape of a heart, this ruby must be held in the hand to be used.  It lets the  bearer cast an improved version of shield other.  The beneficiary must be within 30' of the bearer and gains a +2 deflection bonus to armour class and resistance bonus to saves.  The beneficiary only takes half damage from attacks, the remainder being transferred to the bearer and follows the rules for shield other in all other instances.  The effect lasts as long as the martyr's heart is held.
Market Value: 38,000gp
Creation: Caster level 7th, create wondrous item, extend spell, shield other

Ruby of Burning Light - This scintillating ruby has a flaw in the shape of an ancient glyph that faintly glows when activated.  Once a day, if held before an enemy up to 30 feet away and the glyph's name is spoken, it emits a scorching ray which on a successful ranged touch attack does 4d6 damage to the target.  Once used, the glyph dims until the next sunrise.
Market Value: 2600gp
Creation: Caster level 3rd, create wondrous item, scorching ray

This content is provided under the terms of the OGL.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

harvest festival - review: kobold quarterly #14

Overall (4.5 kobolds): A big issue that captures the frantic activity of convention season.  96 pages of gaming goodness, the themes of honour and generosity are mentioned not just in terms of treasure but also in the diversity of options found in the articles. Artwork is consistently good, drawing on sources other than medieval classics.  There is a good balance of adverts, as this is the GenCon issue, a slight increase is expected.  And the advert prompted a smile - will KQ see other blog adverts?  Cartoons provided by Stan! provide levity.

DISCLAIMER: A review based on copy provided by Open Design.

Aasimar (4.5 kobolds)- Kolja Raven Liquette holds up a bright mirror to the 4E tiefling.  Born of angel and human, aasimar are zealous foes of evil.  This brings feats and a paragon path - in the limited space it has, this is a kicker of an article. 

Prince of Wolves (3.5 kobolds) - James L. Sutter introduces the Pathfinder Tales novel Prince of Wolves with stats for the tiefling bodyguard Radovan, a couple of spells and magic items which will see use (especially chastisement a.k.a holy clip round the ear) for DM fans.

Ecology of the Tengu (4 kobolds) - R. William THompson provides a Pathfinder conversion for a raucous race of rogues, this draws on Oriental tropes to create a distinctive player option. While the Streetsinger is a perfect bard prestige class, the samurai swords is more in the mode of classic FGU game Bushido -  mildly jarring for those who know kenku. While it needs more ninja, travel broadens the mind.

Healing Hands (3.5 kobolds) - James Graham gives variant laying-on-hands if you're one of those DMs who find curing the pox once a week passe.  Nice if you've got the time to homebrew, plugging into an established campaign may carry it's own risks in terms of balance. 

Perfumes of Bourgund (5 kobolds) - Stefen Styrsky offers magical perfumes, foppish fripperies and adventure hooks for your Pathfinder game.  A swashbuckler's delight and transplantable to chivalric games.  A very nice take on an unexpected item.

Skill Battles (4 kobolds) - Matthew J. Hanson takes the Skill Challenge.  Add an opposed roll mechanic. Profit if you have a 4E group who haven't quite got the hang of skill challenge roleplaying yet. Examples show the importance of making terrain fun.

Hoard Magic (3 kobolds) - Michael Furlanetto offers 4E magic from bling.  It relies on keyword/modular powers and implicitly trusts the PCs won't just bling up and go nuclear.  Which they will because you just greenlit that. D'oh! If you want to play a wealthy campaign setting, a nice touch but living in Vegas has it's own overheads.

Men of Honour (5 kobolds) - Variant honour codes for your honourable types.  Paladin pirates may need a specific campaign locale - the aethelring will have Viking clones nodding and the Xia code is particularly useful for those in campaigns like Wyatt Salazar's Spirits of Eden.  And the Code Duello, for those swashbucklers who do the unrequited thing.

Dice versus Story (5 kobolds) - Monte Cook waxes sage on how story can be used to bust out of plot ruts and rolling with intemperate dice when it doesn't kill the characters.  Tackling the 'take it as read' mentality is something that Monte is wise to pursue, especially when dealing with complacent players who believe the world should be handed to them because of high dice pools.

Chumming The Dungeon (4.5 kobolds) - Not cyberpunk but Jeremy Jones's interview with Rob Heinsoo. Backstage insights into 4E design, nods to Alarums & Excursions and online community as well as insights into cutting deals with your party to err on the side of awesome.

Paper Treasures (4 kobolds) - John Baichtal gives system-free adventure hooks.  Finding that musty old tome was never so much fun.

Middle-Class Magic (5 kobolds) - Adam Daigle offers a selection of minor magical items for Pathfinder courtesy of Pentrick of the Kobold Ghetto with a ton of character.  The spider grenade alone is worth the price of admission.

Book Reviews (4.5 kobolds) - A crop of fun books, looks like all of them will make the wish list.  Prince of Wolves looks fun and the Joe R. Lansdale anthology promises to be one helluva ride.

Creating Memorable Characters (4 kobolds) - Ed Greenwood adds some more tips to those needing to hit their characterisation stride; useful stuff and handy reminders for old hands as well.

Ask the Kobold (3.5 kobolds) - The sagacious Skip Williams turns to Pathfinder offering advice on invisible things, bleeding and other pressing queries.

How to Create Feats (4 kobolds) - Sigfried Trent talks feat design and hacking for Pathfinder, heralding stuff for the upcoming Advanced Players Guide.  All sensible advice for the homebrewer who must roll their own.

Ancient Tongues (3.5 kobolds) - Michael Kortes has a language for any occasion in Pathfinder.  Good spice, can be over-used if you have players who love to shop for rules combos.

Courtly Games (4 kobolds) - Mario Podeschi introduces magical athletic games and if you remember Innocenti di Malapietra, this would be his bag. 4E is implied but it's adaptable.  While basilisk baiting is a dangerous spectator sport, there is plenty of fuel for some of the more demented DMs.  I can see Mad Duke's Bluff becoming a convention staple.

Moral Choices That Matter (5 kobolds) - Jeff Tidball hits this out the park. Yes it says Dragon Age.  You can use this for any game you damn well please and it will still rock.   Read The Fine Article.

The Reign of Men (5 kobolds) - John Wick & Jesse Heinig reload humanity, combining philosophic apprehension with kick-ass tactics.  Those who've been following KQ will be pleased to see the Wicked Fantasy take on races will be assembled in PDF in time for GenCon 2010.

Art & Expertise (4 kobolds) - Scott Murray takes 4E skill hacking to a logical conclusion, offering 50 ways to innovate on the basics.  Check with your local DM and ask politely at conventions. :)

Figurines of Wondrous Power (4 kobolds) - Phillip Larwood offers more toys for Pathfinder/3.x/d20.  Neat stuff and worthy additions and the figurines of fell power mean you don't just have to watch for the obsidian steed anymore.

Amber Heart (4.5 kobolds) - Tim & Eileen Connors bring a tale from the Old Margreve. This 3rd level Pathfinder scenario shows it's teeth early and often, requiring either a quick thinking party.  Will suit a party who enjoys horror and a DM willing to indulge their nasty streak. A map of the inn is on the back cover.

The Birdfolk of Zobeck (3.5 kobolds) - Wolfgang Baur gives the tengu a place in Midgard, not only in the Seven Cities but also in the distant lands of the North.

KQ has come a long way.  It will be interesting to see where Open Design take things further, certainly based on the quality of Amber Heart, Tales of the Old Margreve promises to be a must-have.  This issue, quite simply rocks.  How will they follow this one up?  Stick around and find out.
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