This is the Bear Company

This is the Bear Company. Yes, I spent hours in the LEGO Shop at the build-your-won-minifig-station to build them.

First row, the spellcasters: Macross the Gatekeeper (a student in the College of Gatekeepers in the Hypogea of the Valley of Fire, temporarily on leave, temporarily also a statue of glass) Caster 3; Malan the Witch (secretly a worshipper of the Mistress of the Hopping Dragons, an hellish Demon-God) in her pre-arm-amputation attire, now her left arm is replaced by a reptilian-draconic arm after a secret ritual that might or might have not have involved sacrifices of some kind of possibly intelligent life forms done in secret from the rest of the goody-two-shoes party, Caster 4; Brian the Healer (previously Robert “Bobby” Bardson the Necromancer, now with a new identity to avoid “debit collectors” due to a possibly unfair sale of war bonds to some merchant in Lakeend to finance their Baarhof Hinterrhoden invasion), rides an undead horse called Bobby (called Brian before his master’s name change, Brian the Undead Horse was a mare in life but for some reason the gender changed on the transition to undead) Caster 4.

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Second row, the fighters: Yuri von Unterväld, wearing the traditional dapper Unterväldian hat and awesome facial hair, being a reliable tough line-fighter dude as always, Fighter 4/Expert 1 (First Aid/Surgery); Timmy the Eight-Years-Old-Orphan, initially hired as torchbearer, gun and crossbow reloader and grenade lobber for amputee Malan, Fighter 2; Zën Jhoneberg, third of the Jhoneberg brothers to first join the Bear Company and then horribly die, is somehow not dead yet. The Jhoneberg family is famous for his exploits and skirmish tactics that can only be described as “reckless” and “raving mad”, but now are seen as normal by the rest of the Bear Company. This went a bit too far, and now Jhonebergian Tactics are considered “what the Bear Company does”.

You can see the party here during a proper murderhobo-style home invasion of the lair of cephalopods (the dice are giant cuttlefishes). They got there finding a stair in an underground pyramid in the Wood of the Gnoles, then going down the unbelievably long stairs, turning north-west at a crossroad of corridors, finding a shattered glass statue of something vaguely humanoid, then a tentacled horror that transform people into glass with its laser-eyes. The pencil sharpener is Macross’s Traveling Trunk, an animated box carrying its master glass statue. Yes, Macross failed the save.

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Some cephalopod-murder later, the party arrives at some kind of gaol, proceeds to kill most guards, then a Horror of the Deep (the one in the AFG handbook? yes) breaks out of the cage, more squid arrive, one of them knocks off half of the group by reading some kind of court record. The dice below are think-shelled nautiloid guards (being horribly mauled by the Horror of the Deep), the purples are squids holding lances, the pink is holding the record.

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Next round Malan opens a Hellgate into the room and with everybody’s gleee avoids rolling 4 sixes, toasting everybody except the horror, which gets to flail ineffectively at Yuri until it dies a death by two-handed sword and dragonclaw. In the meantime more guards arrive, but the stunned half of the group recovers in time to fight them off with guns, bows and axes to the nearest exit.

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Chthonic Codex – Cryptic Creatures: approaching release

Chthonic Codex is a monster manual, a bunch of spells and caster-related rules and a campaign setting inspired by stuff you would rather not know. Browse the Chthonic Codex inspiration gallery if you want to grok it better.

cci - cryptic creatures-small

It took 15 months to complete the draft of the first volume. Fifteen months because, while it started as a monsters + setting book, it then grew to become a smorgasbord of setting details and buckets of magic-related new game mechanics. We are talking 180-200 pages there. Then, realizing that finishing a 180 pages book would take me ages, I sliced in three volumes.

Cryptic Creatures is the first volume. It features more than 30 monsters (it’s not fully finalized), so at we are talking at least 66 pages. The contents are the brainchild of me working with Christopher Stanley, which did all the interior illustrations. The cover art is by Claire Maclean. Each spread has a full page illustration on the verso and, on the facing recto, a fragment of the Codex itself and the stats for the monster, for AFG, Swords & Wizardry and other retroclones. Spreads looks like this, click to download the Cephalopod, a new monster and playable race:

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The text above is not final, by the way.

The second volume, Academia Apocripha, deals with the Great Schools of Magic under the Valley of Fire, their students and their secret arts. And more than enough new spells to completely replace the standard spell list. And a couple of new classes, and adaptation of existing AFG spells for S&W and other retroclones. In a way it’s the player’s handbook of the setting.

The third volume, Mysteries & Mystagogues, details the Hypogea of the Valley of Fire. The book will feature mysteric cults and relative shenanigans, magic research, hypogean curios of both the artefact and the natural varieties, the Apotheosis of the Grand Sorcerer of the Valley of Fire and CHTHONOTRON, the Hypogea Generator.

And mana-tar. There’s a sea of iridescent magic tar under the Hypogea of the Valley of Fire. the mana-tar stirs and changes, chasing our thoughts and our dreams.

At any rate, Cryptic Creatures will ship this November in PDF and Print+PDF.

Now, what about the other volumes? And the deluxe editions?

Wait, Editions?

Yes. I’m going to release this baby in two different deluxe editions, provisionally for 35$+s/h each.

One of the deluxe editions is going to be a boxed set. The shape and style of the boxed set is not certain at the moment. This is because for some reason getting a quote from boxmakers is a nightmare. But I have at least three alternatives, and only one of them is to make boxes by hand.

The other deluxe edition is going to be a handbound book. I decided for a coptic binding because it both fits the setting and spreads completely open when laid flat on the table. Depending on the final layout and budget it could still be possible to have the book bound in dragon skin. *

All deliverables (the second and third volumes and the spiffy versions) will be released before April. In the meantime whoever purchased either the boxed set or the bound book will have access to drafts and prerelease versions. And of course I might be late, and that is the nature of projects.

[*]: not real dragon, actually soft, tanned salmon skin, but still looking creepily scaly.

A Little Guide on Converting Pretty Much Anything from D&D to AFG

Adventure Fantasy Game does not have any specific supporting product. Chthonic Codex is meant to be the first one, and It’s becoming a multi-year opus, the first volume to be released later on this year.

But it doesn’t matter. The beauty of AFG is that you can just shamelessly yoink material from D&D and run it straight. What follows is what I do, in my head, without thinking about it much.

IMPORTANT PART

The important message is not to worry. Just roll with it. You literally can’t do anything wrong. AFG is a frame and just think of hanging stuff on it. Feel the freedom of running on the grass barefoot, nae, scratch that, with no clothes on. Be Bold. Take Risks. Enjoy the Rush. Make It Awesome.

Oh, beside that hippy moment, the best way to run AFG is without any worry and help players do awesome stuff. Treat it with the ingenuity of a pick up game and watch events unfold in a campaign. Seriously. RPGs like AFG are supposed to be a crutch/aid more than some kind of formal system that you can run your world in.

The Cruchy Grisly Bits

Spells: The handbook covers spell conversions. The only thing needed to convert is the spell level: double it and possibly subtract 1. All spells cost 1 mana. Keep all details unaltered. It works totally fine. If it feels weird to you, you’ll be comforted by remembering that casters can’t cast the same spell twice a day.

Modifiers/buffs: I wrote AFG to have a low number of modifiers and to keep them low in number. So anything that gives +1 to hit or skills is ignored. +2 to +4 becomes +1. +5 to +7 becomes +2 and so on. I often ignore everything that in D&D would give a +2 modifier. Avoid damage modifiers or add an extra dice of damage for weapons if you really feel you need to.

Monsters: HD becomes the AFG level. FC = tier. Recalculate damage ignoring the D&D damage. Give it equivalent armour. Keep the decor. That’s it, move along.

Riiight, you want more directions. Fine.

  1. FEARSOME FIGHTERS: If the monster is presented with many attacks or is supposedly awesome in melee, give it additional hits equal to its level or to double its level, as a fighter (and recalculate the FC).
  2. POWERS and SPELLS: If it comes with a list of powers, just use them or treat it as a caster of the same level with the listed powers as spell list.
  3. MULTIATTACK: If a monster is iconic for having multiple attacks, give it multiple attacks (say, hydras) or, if they hit, allow for multiple rolls of damage: for example if an aurumvorax (9HD, but might be different) wins a FIGHTMORE round, it will deal 1d6+2d6 (because FC 2) = 3d6 with the bite, plus 4 wounds of 1d6 each to be applied separately against armour for the hindlegs raking in.
  4. DAMAGE: recalculate the damage as if it was an AFG monster, considering that Giant (ogre-sized and more) monsters have the Giant ability, and that giant animals have it too (like the Ur-Bjorn in the example adventure). And remember that when you roll multiple dice for a wound, it’s always “take best, +1 for each extra 5MORE rolled on damage”, so the aurumvorax bite with a roll of (6,5,4) will deal 6,+1 for the 5.
  5. THACO and FC: If you have THAC0, try maybe FC = (20-thaco)/3, round down. Or maybe just ignore and get the FC from the tier. Or use FIGHTMORE with a d20 as suggested in the optional rules. Seriously, you should try this in a D&D game once in a while.
  6. ARMOUR: AC is converted to armour type (say, AC 2 becomes Plate), then converted to AFG armour (Heavy). Ignore Dex modifiers. So:
9-8 -> none -> 0: none
7-6 -> leather -> 1: light
5-4 -> chain -> 2: medium
3-0 -> plate -> 3: heavy
< 0 -> awesome -> 4: “armoured” heavy. The only thing I used with protection 4 is the Harga Troll Guard (wearing magic heavy armour). But it’s the Harga Troll Guard, famous in the whole Spinalian and Esteran underworld. There’s only two things in the Codex with protection 4: the Grand Sorcerer Equestrian Guard (because they have magical plate armour) and the Bather in Tar (and the wise shall spend no more words on the latter topic).
Protection 5 does not lend itself to good gaming, I’d avoid it. I considered using it for a monster in an upcoming adventure you surely heard about, but more due to an excess of blubber than actual armour. 🙂
Protection, by the way, is the best way to represent just ginormous monsters with really, really thick skin/blubber. Brontosauruses might have protection 3. As a side topic, I find amusing how people underestimate the lethality of big herbivores, they’re mean spirited killing machines at times. Cows kill.
What I sometimes (often) do is crack open AD&D 2nd ed Monstruous Manual and use the monster straight away. Calculate FC, convert AC, then use the FC for damage as per the normal AFG rules and, if the moster has powers, well, it can use them. Easy. Chill. No Game Police.

Saves: Ignore the save type or, if you use the separate saves suggested in the handbook, ask yourself the following questions:

  • is it something that requires quick reactions and noticing things, like surprise? -> Roll on Alertness.
  • Is it something that indimidates, scares or demotivates? -> Roll on Morale.
  • Is it a physical attack, poison, petrification, tiredness, internal bleeding, mutilation? -> Roll on Toughness.
  • Is it a mind probe, charm, compulsion, attack -> Roll on Stubborness.

notes from behind the screen: new group, same campaign

There’s a new geeky place in Glasgow, the Geek Retreat. It’s a small cafe/comic book shop/hangout place with a small but growing game selection and a welcoming staff.

Last month I heard they were looking for a game master and I promptly volunteered, which led me to start running AFG on Wednesdays. Since at the third session we had 9 (8+GM) people at the table (more on that in the next paragraph) I decided to also start (from this coming week) to run some variety of D&D on Thursdays, as it seems that there are more people wanting to play.

On running for 8 players – there is a maximum group size, but I’m not sure what it is. It surely depends on game system, player socialization (both how they are socialized to behave in groups and how much they chat between themselves at the table), noise level, play style and GM exposition skill. In Geek Retreat 8 players were probably beyond my capacity, but I noticed the noise was distracting me, especially with British players (they tend to speak quieter than Italians at the table, and probably anywhere else, and gesticulating less). Something that I felt helped a lot is the AFG initiative system: split in 4 phases (melee, missile, movement, magic) in each phase all actions are simultaneous. Instead of rolling initiative the referee simply asks “is anybody attacking in melee?” at the beginning of the first phase, then resolves all melee, then repeats the same for the remaining phases (with some caveats you can find in the free, “light” AFG rules). No initiative roll, no sorting, only 4 phases.

On the players – I’m really lucky. There is definitely a mix of experience, and a couple of them never played tabletop, but none of them seems to have too many problems with OSR-style play. Or having their characters mutilated: in 4 sessions a character lost an eye to a zombie finger, another had an arm disabled for a couple of sessions, the caster failed a TS against Hellgate, shielded herself with her arm and took way too much damage, then collapsed.  Due to all that molten skin and carbonized tissue, the arm had to be amputated to avoid gangrene and sepsis, so now an orphan kid is reloading her crossbow.

So, at her second session ever, her PC gets fireballed, collapses, then wakes up without an arm. Ah, happytimes.

On the setting – people, fantastic spaces need a map. They do. At least it works as “list of places we can go”. Even something scrabbled with a pencil in 2 minutes while you explain the setting is way, way better than nothing. About 10000 gigajoule/lightyear better. Even if this is the eight campaign I run in the Uplands/Western League campaign, I don’t have a map for the setting yet. I have a few maps, some even made with Hexographer, but players need a map. Conveying geography with words is complicated, but with words and maps it’s incredibly easier.

So at the beginning of session two I scribbled a map while I was filling in players with some background details. I do a 2-3 minutes infodump at the beginning of every session, complete with a recap of what happened and the last session’s loose ends. Why the recap and the loose ends? Because players, between sessions, are distracted by things such as “real life” et similia, so I don’t want them to bumble around before they remember what’s left to be done. Time for gaming is precious.

Something I feel I’m getting better at is this whole business of running many campaigns in the same settings and making all the consequences matter. I kicked off the campaign with three hooks generated in the last session ran with the OTM – Original Tilean Murderhoboes and, well, being in a place with a lot of interesting events with their own background, and a background behind that background generated by real people murderhoboing around a table is way, way more compelling than anything I could come up with.

More specifically the players investigated what happened to the hunting lodge of gunther von Untervald, the first son of Wilhelm, the previous Untervald Schultheiss. Gunther was supposed to be the new schultheiss after the death of his father, but due to being a horrible douchebag the Court Council exhiled him and instead elected Hansel, his brother, which is kind and handsome and speaks with a silvery voice and makes everybody fawn. Everybody. He’s that pretty. Anyway, Gunther started brigandage in the Upland Court, where the OTM ( and their warband) killed him (and all his followers) with great prejudice and glee. More events happened in the next 11 hours of play with the OTM, including almost a war between the courts of Untervald, Obervald and Oberschwartztal on one side and Oberland, Erminelin, Farturm (the court ran by some of the OTM) and Zeegau on the other. Avoiding the war by a mix of clever diplomacy and the long-proven tactic of killing all the witnesses, the whole clusterf*ck lead the OTM deviating a stream to the basement of Gunther’s hunting lodge to quash a handful of portals that were mistakenly opened toward one of the many Fiery Hells that somehow coexist in my setting. Because when they f*ckup, they f*ckup good.

JOESKY TAX – FIGHTMORE MAYHEM

To make melee even faster and less confusing, we also playtested a variation of FIGHTMORE meant to better represent messy fights with a bunch of combatants fighting each other. The rules might end up something similar to this:

  1. everybody in melee, for both sides, rolls 1d6 and add their FC (or 1d20+equivalent fighting level).
  2. sort the results for each side, then pair them up, better results against better result and then going down.
  3. Then the rest works normally as FIGHTMORE. Whoever wins his matchup this round deals damage to the opponent, armour reduces damage, shields break ties.

It’s quick and dirty but very effective, especially with big groups when you don’t want to use 5MAIL. Those with polearms fighting from the second rank can attack whoever, and if somebody wants to attack a specific target it’s still possible (treat their roll against a specific target instead of the matchup from the sorted list).

Something else I introduced is the “what were you up to before adventuring” part of chargen. In addition to the AFG fixed starting equipment, the class-based rolls and the random oddball object, I let players roll on an occupation table and five them 1 EXPERT letter in a task related to that occupation. It does not break the game at all to give 1 XP to starting characters, yet it gives them a background and direction. And if the PC has a low stat relevant to the determined task, well, that’s why they gave up and preferred to go adventuring. 🙂

JOESKY TAX REDUX – DRAGON SCALES

The previously mentioned caster worships the Mistress of Hopping Dragons (thanks Jeff), but instead of being a ballsy demon-prince worshipper the player preferred to have protection spells. This fits with dragon-magic: a few spells have been simply reskins of existing ones, but one of them is both a protection spell and an almost-healing spell.

Dragon Scales – lvl 1

Range: touch. Duration: until dawn, see below.

The subject grows thick dragon scales. The scale absorb damage that would otherwise be dealt to the target. After absorbing a total of 1d6 hits, the spell ends.

Dragon Scales is simple, but I like the implications. It can be cast before combat and in combat as almost-healing, but it does not heal anything. On one hand, healing is very useful, on the other hand constructs can use some dragon scales too. 😉

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AFG Character Sheet, second version

Last week Jason Sholtis sent me the first version of a character sheet for AFG. While it was clear to everybody involved that it had a whole lot of merit, I decided to have players use it and then decide.

So we playtested at Glasgow Geek Retreat (also with first-time players, Hey Dawn & Sandy) and adjustment were made. It’s most probably going to be changed again, but not very soon. 🙂

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A handful of character sheets are going to be included with each order from the webstore. Because not chucking in some small freebie is a wasted opportunity.

Adventure Fantasy Game – Random Wizard Questions

These questions are good because Adventure Fantasy Game is mechanically well different from D&D despite being essentially the same game. And almost completely stat-compatible. Grab the free AFG Lite PDF here, full chargen included. Buy it here.

(1). Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no?

Possibly. AFG allows to pick a different class (actually, a Way, which is a bit different as it it represent focused growth in a specific discipline) every time PCs level up. Demihumans have special classes of their own that they can take.

(2). Do demi-humans have souls?

Yes, except elves.

(3). Ascending or descending armor class?

Armour reduces damage. In the lite version, ascending, kinda.

(4). Demi-human level limits?

All PCs stop levelling at level 12, 13 with a trick, but they can get other perks.

(5). Should thief be a class?

There are Practitioners that gives you experience with a specific task.

(6). Do characters get non-weapon skills?

Yes, with the 5MORE system. More commentary.

(7). Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)?

Fighters are bread, Casters are Nutella. They’re different. Fighters kick so much ass in melee it’s unreal. Caster change the laws of physics.

(8). Do you use alignment languages?

No. Languages are national shibboleths though.

(9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc…)?

Levels and perks for accomplishments and looting important treasure troves. There are no equivalent for D&D XPs.

(10). Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E ADD, 4E ADD, Next ?

I roll with S&W Whitebox. Sometimes Moldvay/Mentzer/RC, which are for me equivalent.

AFG Character Sheet – Alpha Version

Update: new sheet downloadable here.

Adventure Fantasy Game characters, at least for my groups, are written on 3*5 index cards. I guess this is because AFG never had a specific character sheet. Until today.

The always awesome Jason Sholtis is flexing his illustration and design chops to prettify my AFG spreadsheety character sheet. You can see it below in all its clawytentaclybeardyness. While the work is not done, you can start using it and tell me how it feels. 🙂

afg-sheet-alpha