Spiritsmiths of the Harga Forge

How great it is to be a troll!
My mouth is full of all the food
Wolf, deer, cow, grouse, cheese, bear, goat, man!
Teeth chew, throat gasps, goes down my gut
Be glad, full tum, get food eat yum!

How great it is to be a troll!
From earth dug out, down here I’m stuck
First dig and smith, then hoard and gloat!
Dig down, dig more, break stones, find ore
Smith gold, work steel, for pride and blood!

How great it is to be a troll!
Time lies, new stuff breaks down and fails
Down here we build the same old things!
More earth, we know, it grows down there
Old hills are gone? More hills we’ll get!

Level 5 – Spite of Progress – a spiritsmith, when hitting a complex mechanical device (at least as complex as a bicycle, a hand blender or a lock), damages it enough that it needs 1d6+1 days of repair to be working again.

This is how the AFG Spiritsmithing spell tradition gets adapted for Chthonic Codex. The Harga Forge and the Court of the Troll Queen (featured in the adventure in the back of AFG) are but a few hundred miles away from the Valley of Fire, and there is no doubt that contacts happened at some point between the Court and the Schools. Sadly the only pertaining codex fragment found is the above.

The second volume of the Chthonic Codex should be ready in time. This means it gets wrapped up either this weekend or the coming week, for a release the first of February. Both PDF and Print+PDF will be immediately available, but the printing itself will happen a couple of weeks after (why? I have a mental schedule and possibly a broken rib).

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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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Western League FLAILSNAILS session 2: from LakeEnd to the Border and fro and to and fro and to again

So again the League was subjected to the abuse of FLAILSNAILING PCs.

Characters: Etan (Fighter 5?, ran by Kyrinn) and her goon, Arlana the Preacher (Caster 1, ran by Lisa), Valentine the Clearly Not A Black Mage Why Do you Ask (Caster 3, ran by Chris).

Image.

So, the party groups up in LakeEnd and decides to head up to the location of the last session’s massacre, an tower in a cavern by a river under a mountain (yes, exactly). So they follow again the road east (their path is highlighted in bright pink on the map) and, while camping for the night at the dead village of Eastfields. Overnight they meet a merchant (totes not a merchant, I rolled a 5 in the Countryside Nighttime Encounter Table from Burgs & Bailiffs) going through the village with 5 pack ponies. They insist in following him to “escort” him and then “be introduced to friends”. After some more discussion (mostly about how Etan brutally killed Wolf (a local bandit leader that somehow escaped death since session 2 of 5 campaigns ago) apparently using only a Glove of Mending) the PCs reach town but, instead of walking through the heavily fortified East Gate they’re ferried with the pony-load straight to Isleton (that island south of town).

Lake End Map - Wester League - Six Cities Setting

Now, Isleton is a horrible place. The streets are often red with blood. Gangs own it. The guards don’t ever bother to even go to the darn place. And it’s not like they’re ferried to a public pier because there are no such things in Isleton. They are all private. The pier they land at leads straight to a warehouse, where after more “I killed Wolf and he screamed like a little kid”-style bragging with John-John and Merchant Flynn (two of the best honourable businessmen in town) the party got offered to recover some prisoners from the border fort east of town (labeled Border Fort) and is given a bag of coins (5000 silver thalers) as a mixed advance payment, reward for killing Wolf and protection money for the merchant.

Now, the party leaves the hive of bad mafia stereotypes and goes to the Red Forge Inn, which is a tranquil inn just inside of the West Gate. Tranquil except for the forge across the courtyard, but at least you won’t get stabbed if you’re not educate with someone at the bar, most probably. After bathing, eating, sleeping and breakfast, the party notices that there are a handful of goons outside that might want to stab them good.

So Etan goes out, says something like “come get some” making one of them run away, then punches in the throat another, knocking him out, gets a battle blessing from Arlana, then Valentine makes them all doozy and sleepy and, long story short, after some threatening the party discovers that those 6 are what’s left of the Fangs (Wolf’s band; the party killed the rest last session) and that they wanted to get their revenge but sure, thanks for not killing us while we were asleep,  if you say you’re the new boss it’s fine by us. So some logistics happen and the party is brought to the Fangs’ town hideout (an attic overlooking the citadel) and some naming happens (the Fangs are assigned names like Dire Badger, Black Bow, Coffee Boy and so on). Then they go to Flynn’s, tell him that Etan is taking over the Fangs and thats cool with Flynn. Flynn also throws in two henchmen on the party’s request (later called Frank and Beans) and fords them across the river.

So, until now the party gained a bag of coins and 7 goons. Which is fine. Second part later.

Western League: here’s your manor in the Uplands

My Milan group finally managed, two sessions ago, to get land and title, by the way of sheer guts and being possessed by a malignant weapon. I don’t really do session recaps but I’m willing to give it a try.

As it often happens in RPGs, it all started by doing dirty work for the High Chief Karl of the Upland Court. A tribe of headhunters riding terrorbugs (flying purple scarabs armed with claws dripping with psychoactive poison) was killing his villains and prized cows and he wanted the tribe wiped off the face of the earth. The whole setup (and more) is described by the adventure/sandbox/minisetting at the end of the Adventure Fantasy Game handbook. So, spoiler alert.

*  *  YO, I WROTE SPOILER ALERT * *

One day a small part of the group (Schroedinger the Fighter, Kalibek the Engineer and Winston Moretti the Warlock) decided to put an end to the headhunter problem: Chief Karl sent them eastward, beyond the Harga volcano, telling them to look around the area for heads on poles.  After exploring the area they found a hill riddled with tunnels. but while deciding how to act they were attacked by a cannibal hunting party going back to their den. The immediately blew into a horn to raise the alarm, and the small skirmish soon escalated to a slaughter as more headhunters and terrorbugs (often acting as flying mount for headhunters) joined the combat.

Winston, during the fight, killed a bug rider and managed to take control and ride the giant insect, but as he struggled to take control of the bug the tide of battle was pushing against the players, so they decided to fall back. While running away Schroedinger got bit by another bug, failed the save and, due to the psychoactive bug poison, terror paralyzed him. An airborne Winston arrived, dispatched the bug, lifted Schroedinger and flew away. Meanwhile Kalibek was safely running like the wind in the thick woods. Then Winston noticed the fighter was wielding Nautilus and the penny dropped.

afg-nautilus-copy

Yeah, this is the illustration for Nautilus. It will show up in the second print run of AFG.

Nautilus, the malevolent cephalopod spear, is known to throw itself at enemies it wants dead by draining mana from his wielder, only to reappear in his grasp a moment later. So Winston touched Nautilus felt his magical energy drained by the weapon, which propelled itself against a chasing enemy, killing him, only to reappear in his grasp a second later. Turning back and letting the frenzied spear feed on his mana to throw itself again and again against the few remaining savages, the tide of battle turned once again, this time with the PCs winning!

In the following melee Winston got bitten by another terrorbugbug and succumbed to its terrifying paralyzing poison. Everything seemed lost, but Nautilus possessed him! Winston became frenzied, killed the remaining enemies and then blew the cannibals signaling horn again, hoping to summon more victims. Ten more came out with bows and spears, followed by a dozen kids with daggers and stones, wanting blood. Incapable or unwilling to outrun the savages the party stood their ground and killed all of them.

Winston then, and it’s uncertain whether the possession was still ongoing, piled the corpses, put the party’s Idol of Cthulhu on the pile and then all the party together supplicated and prostrated themselves in front of the God’s effigy. Their prayers were heard, as their wounds started to close and their pain to ease off.

Then they left for their camp and came back the next day, blew the horn again and were challenged by the chiefs and their kids, all riding terrorbugs, 12 riding as many in total. The savages had nowhere else to go and the first snows were approaching, so they tried a desperate last assault to save their ancestral home. At the end all the headhunters were slain, the bugs driven away and their ancestral home plundered.

So, yeah, that’s how you get a manor* from a lord: by killing hallucinogenic bugs and scores of men, women and kids. Because if someone has enough guts and disregard for decency to do that, you’ll end up being a very good knight that does not question orders.

All comments here.

[*]: actually a tower in the middle of a valley linking the Uplands with the Western League. With a big hole in the wall. And a hungry giant living inside.

[New Spell] Little Star from the Sky – from the Chthonic Codex

Little Star from the Sky

Level 6 [12 in AFG]

Range: 1 mile.

Radius: 100′

The caster will bring down on a target within range a little start from the sky. If the caster owns a tiny star the spell can throw that instead. The star will enter the atmosphere on a ballistic trajectory, hit the target unerringly and explode for 8d6 impact & star-cradle-level-fusion-powered radioactivity damage, no save. The radioactive explosion will damage everything within the radius of the spell, scattering debris and dealing 8d6 damage. Damage can be halved if both a death ray and magic save are successful, reduced to 3/4 if only one is successful.

Making stars fall can anger gods, especially if the caster does not own the star and casts it more than once a year or in the same calendar day in different years.

Jeff’s 20 Questions: Western League

The Western League is the setting of all my games since the early Noughties.
No, that’s a lie. In the first years the setting was centred on Unis, a trading city state south of the Western League. The destiny of the two are very much entwined though. Unis will gets her 20 Questions too, and so will do the Uplands, the Fire Valley, the Eastern League and all the other Duchies of the Spine.
At the moment there are three campaigns running using the same continuity: the Milan Campaign, the Glasgow Campaign and the  FLAILSNAILS Campaign. It’s gritty low fantasy, magic is not common because, well, Western League spellcasters are like other professionals, like lawyers or medics: scarce and aware of their scarcity. Therefore they can take it easy and charge good money.
It must also be said that low level casters in AFG are known to survive melee (at times, if they’re careful and/or lucky) but are not considered much of a thing, magic-wise, until level  3 (when they start getting more serious magic) or 4 (when they can craft magic items).
Anyway, here are the Western League answers to Jeff’s 20 questions.
  1. Where can we go to buy standard equipment? From If you needed a barn built, would you go to a weaver? No, I guess no. You go and ask a carpenter, engineer or something like that. So, if you need a ploughshare, you go the smith. At the markets you can find a lot of traders in all wares though. Markets are held in Sidesi, Tanglehold, Far Haven, Lake End. The Bogton harbour is good for trading too.
  2. Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended? Monster? Did you find monsters? Have you told the Baron? Are you joking, innit?
  3. Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?  Baron Ulbatar of Blacktower.
  4. Who is the greatest warrior in the land? Without a doubt Sir Kenneth of Bogfort, Baron of Bofgort. Yes, Bofgort. A transcription error happened in the patent of arms.
  5. Who is the richest person in the land? Hard to say. Possibly one of the Barons. Barons are rich.
  6. Where can we go to get some magical healing? Your granny, probably. Or my granny. If you have money to a physiurgeon. I’ve been told that you can get better sleeping in front of an Idol of Cthulhu, if you don’t mind having terrible dreams for weeks. But cultists eats people.
  7. What is the deal with my cleric’s religion? Cleric? Are you a scribe or accountant?
  8. Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath? The first two from a medic or a physiurgeon. Curses, try a pilgrimage. There’s no such thing as level drain or alignment. Death, try a physiurgeon of one of those crazy hermits in the woods, but don’t count on it. Undeath? I suggest a pyre.
  9. Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells? No. Magic is precious and teaching magic is both time consuming and reducing the value of knowledge. A few months ago a printer in Far Haven started printing spellbooks and made a pretty silver off it, but then its machines started breaking down all the time and one night his shop just exploded.
  10. Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC? Usually in a market town or where there’s someone rich enough to pay them.
  11. Where can I hire mercenaries? In spring, go to Bogton. A lot of bands go there to serve Baron Kenneth against the Upland Raiders. Any other time, ask a Baron to send a bright crow.
  12. Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law? Not really. But keep it civil.
  13. Which way to the nearest tavern? Town squares, or on the two trading roads.
  14. What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous? That’s so last century. But no news came from Black Valley in a long while, and some people at the Three Hounds in Lake End mentioned ogres. Ogres would be a real disaster.
  15. Are there any wars brewing I could go fight? The Uplands have just been invaded by a bunch of upstarts.
  16. How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes? Remember when I told you to keep it civil? Well, if you go to Isleton and act tough but without stomping on the wrong feet you might be asked to fight a match or two.
  17. Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight? Only honourable businessman that make offers you can’t refuse. And foreign agents.
  18. What is there to eat around here? Mostly gruel of barley or emmer or spelt. Eaten with a sauce of either pork, fish, blood sausage, cheese, and cabbage or root vegetables. Meat or fish for the good days or in the years of poor harvest. Washed down with cheap ale of wine.
  19. Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for? Well, legends mention that the Fire Valley is full of treasure. And monsters. Maybe under the mountains there are still trolls mining. Apparently there’s an Idol of gold in a temple under the Harga Volcano.
  20. Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure? The last Dragon of the Spine, Spitefire, was killed decades ago by a broadside fired from a Unis galleon. His den was never found. A Northman prophet travelled through the League last year, chasing a vision of a dragon flying over a desert. He sailed from Sidesi directed to Unis and apparently from there went exploring the desert. He never came back. So the answer is “about a hundred leagues due south-south-east if you’re lucky”.