Sunday, 29 April 2012

fabian strategies

This month's RPG Blog Carnival courtesy of Exchange of Realities is about avoiding combat.  Having already held forth on adventures without violence by exploration and politics, let's talk about how to win a battle without even needing to land a blow.  There will be times when the foe is too much to handle in a straight fight.  One approach is to pile on the advantages then wade in and hope for the best.  Then there's making the prospect of battle unthinkable or at least exceptionally troubling for the enemy.

The proverbial exemplar of these strategies was Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, dictator of Rome during the Second Punic War.  Facing no less a foe than Hannibal who had just dealt Rome two heavy defeats at Trebbia and Lake Trasimene, he realised head-on confrontation with a confident, skilled force (with elephant support) would lead to further defeats.  Instead he chose indirect attacks, attrition of scouting parties and forcing Hannibal to over-extend his supply lines.  Though the plan was working, it was politically  unpopular, and Fabius was replaced.  Ignoring this approach led to defeat at Cannae and in other battles. Eventually a battered and wiser Rome adopt these strategies to drive Hannibal out.

Picking the battlefield: Choosing a battleground that negates your enemy's tactical advantages is smart thinking.  Fabius chose to keep his forces in the hills, foiling Hannibal's cavalry and engaging in hit-and-run and set pieces against Hannibal's scouting parties.  Sun Tzu notes the merits of various battlefields and how they can transform a battle.  By shadowing your enemy with your own forces, you prevent them from taking advantage of open terrain merely by your presence.

Psychological warfare: Persuading your foe battle will be fatal, harmful or even protracted can be enough to persuade them not to go there.  The use of fear and intimidation sometimes cows foes into submission or rout.  The Romans forced Hannibal's surrender by a campaign of misinformation and blackmail culminating in the Roman victory at Zama.  The Mongols were past masters of this, inflating their numbers by stories to their enemies.  This survives in the meaning of the word 'horde' - an overwhelming mass of individuals in European languages but to the Mongol, it means an encampment!

Sabotage: By damaging vehicles, bridges or equipment (e.g. armour, weapons) a foe may be encouraged to leave the field.  This requires preparation and stealth although the magically-endowed can find quicker routes to this goal.  When bows and pikes are twisted like ginger roots and the battlefield a morass of mud, soldiers get selective about their fighting.  Cutting supply lines is as old as Sun Tzu but the past masters of this were the French Resistance in World War II who managed to inflict three times as much damage to locomotives as the Allied bombers between January and March 1944.

Scorched earth policy: If you are retreating, destroying any tactical advantage offered by what you give up means the foe must provision themselves without foraging or pillaging.  This tactic, though recently named is ages old, having been used against the Romans by the Gauls and Persians.  It was also used against the armies of Napoleon in Portugal and more famously, in Russia.  The impact of this approach on the civilians is horrific, it is suspected as many Russians died from the deprivation as French troops.

Avoiding combat need not be a peaceful affair and can be dramatic.  Commando-style sabotage offers plenty of opportunities for Michael Bay-esque explosions and scorched earth can lead to awful horrors and redemption by good deed.  Fearful whispers of a foe's prowess or numbers can turn the screws in a siege situation and the presence of an enemy army, waiting on unknown instructions, holds a sword above the heads of player characters.

Friday, 20 April 2012

review: midgard bestiary pathfinder rpg edition

DISCLAIMER: Review based on PDF copy provided by Open Design
Metric: Indris (after Sir John Mandeville no less)
Overall: 4.5 indris (a superior collection of creatures to cause carnage.)
A grab-bag of creatures for GMs to dip into; very useful if you're planning a Midgard game.  Pathfinder bestiaries are popular.  What makes this one special?  Perhaps the balanced range of creatures giving something for everyone.  Maybe the variations within a theme for things like iron ghouls or putrid haunts.  Midgard has much love for Pathfinder and this bestiary continues that approach.

Contents: 4.5 indris (varied, interesting bunch with hooks into particular Midgard settings).
A varied group of monsters to challenge your PCs from the tempestuous ala to the vicious zmey.  The bestiary goes beyond the Old Margreve with constructs from Zobeck, undead from the Ghoul Imperium and beyond, hags, dragons and beasts that defy easy classification ranging from the insidious treacle to the sinister mordant snare.  Some familiar faces like the spark and horakh from Kobold Quarterly's King of the Monsters contest make appearances.  The monsters cover a range of levels, ensuring you'll have something new to throw at your 15th-level party.

Artwork/Layout: 4.5 beasts (clean layout and representative artwork).
Despite a similar cover to the Midgard Bestiary for AGE, the content is different!  Interior art by Darren Calvert, Rick Hershey, Pat Loboyko, Hugo Solis, Allison Theus and others show the monsters in action.  Some art will be familiar to Open Design fans.  Layout is solid, links in the PDF point where they need to, text is clear and visible on every page and page decorations are unobtrusive while lending flavour.

In conclusion, this is a solid bestiary for fans of Midgard and Pathfinder GMs alike.  Classical themes and predilection to clockwork critters aside, there is enough variety to make this one excellent to dip into when planning something a little surprising for your party.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

damned city: manescor

Lagelido shelters the two-mile wide crater of Manescor, the city's heart rests where a star fell.  Built on catastrophe, sustained by tyranny, such is Manescor.  The south Chantákia road forms a viaduct into the crater, sloping down a full half-mile.  Rising heat, smoke and clanging steel makes this descent memorable. Beneath the arches is Atmízon, a ghetto of Chantákian smiths, Oroguidan alchemists, poisoners, procurers and prostitutes.  The viaduct slopes downwards towards a rampart where the crimson citadel of Gelusanguis sprawls.  At sunset it's red-stained stones glows like a coal.  Red-robed emissaries and troops in crimson-stained platemail bleed from it's fortified gates.  The soldiers (nefas) bear hooked goads and gladius.  The former hook or snare foes, the latter are stained with virulent giant centipede venom. Each swears eternal loyalty to the lord of Manescor.

The lord is known to everyone only as Manescor. A horned casque in beaten gold with hollow eyes and no facial features erases his identity.  Robes of crimson velvet and black kidskin hide his body.  He always bears an iron rod adorned with rubies, concealed venomed blades and ancient, evil magics. His daughter, Lady Aureglas is chatelaine for Gelusanguis when Manescor himself is preoccupied or travelling.  This only
happens if the city faces crisis.  Most officials who serve him are either red-robed wizards or experienced nefas bound to him by magic.  Manescor understands power and the use of law to constrain unacceptable situations.

North-east of Gelusanguis, the Lagelidan waterfall sinks into Malicoram's shattered maze of chasms and mines.  Those foolhardy enough to descend the hidden stair behind it find oolite cliffs rich in hematite and red garnets.  Mining camps and placer mines cluster in the valleys and cavernous mansions for mine owners and ex-miner traders.  Packs of orthus (feral two-headed dogs with vipers for tails) roam Malicoram's edges, scavenging and preying on the weak.  At the western edge Lake Kokytus embitters the air.  Poisoned by the ancient meteorite within, it's bony sands hide rubies and carbuncles.  Gangs comb for gems, dying over fortunes.  The criminal syndicates that sponsor them command fearful wealth.  Milky, toxic waters calcinate
anything immersed in them with an effervescence of opaque mist.  The only structure on Kokytus is Albumoles, a jetty long-ossified by the lake.  It's sole visitors are nefas and the condemned they escort.  Criminals are swaddled in pale hessian then entombed in the lake, calcined by it's poison depths.  Over weeks, their bodies sink and dissolve

South of Kokytus, writhing between it and the glare of Gelusanguis is the squalid ghetto Rubralitus.  Reeking, gloomy and claustrophobic, Rubralitus never sleeps.  This dog-eat-dog environment breeds wrathful schemers, envious whores and grasping gluttons from artisans and labourers.  The reticulated concrete apartments are barely maintained as corruption funds wealthy guilds and gem prospecting gangs.  The poor riot every midsummer but little changes.  Those caught rioting are executed and their body parts assemble golem brute squads who break up future riots.  Ringleaders are taken to Kokytus for calcination.  From
these mean streets, the strongest and most brutal nefas are recruited.

East of Rubralitus is sinister Felicunas.  Fortified villas for rich artisans, gem-wrights and merchants are leavened with ancient, cat-haunted ruins and black walnut groves.  Lamias yowl under gibbous moons every month.  A local law decrees only nefas may harm cats here, enforced by hellcats, experienced nefas never exercise this privilege.  The walnut groves provide wood and oil for the city.  At the easternmost edge of Felicunas is a copse of cedar and eucalyptus housing broken souls.  Here, the Dantis, tributory to the Fiumorte rises.  Within this cloistered idyllic grove, lamia and hags prey upon the mad with Manescor's written approval.  Political rivals usually end up here, discredited, delusional and eventually dinner.

North of Felicunas is Rupemagus, a sprawling well-lit suburb home to Scholaes, a college of scholars, scribes and wizards.  Most anything a wizard or scribe may wish can be bought here, a brisk market in magical manuscripts keeps wealth rolling in.  Most students are intelligent, rich and bound by geas to their masters.  Manescor recruits many officials and emissaries for Gelusanguis here. This fuels the arrogance of some residents.  Wealth and magic are the keys to prosperity in Rupemagus, survival depends on which
battles you choose and respect for Gelusanguis. Necromancy is considered one Art among many.  Waterwheels powered by mindless skeletons are one example of how magic benefits the community.  For all this, Rupemagus is dependent on the other suburbs for getting things done.  Scholaes sits at the heart of Rupemagus, though individual masters dwell in towers along the northern crater wall.  Intrigues along the wall have led to more than one murder victim coming back to seek revenge.
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