29 January 2012

Playtest Report - Stormbringer 1e Combat System

So we finished our first playtest of Stormbringer 1e rules tonight. Although there's plenty to say about the session, and the story was great fun, my main take away about the rules are that the magic system is great but the combat system blows chunks.

Combat in Stormbringer is a d100 dice throw where a seasoned warrior has about 50% chance or so of hitting. Then the target gets to roll d100 to see if they parry the blow. Then, if its still a hit, the attacker throws damage (which can be a mix of a couple of different dice, depending on the circumstances.) Finally, if the defender has armor there is a dice throw to see how much soak the damage does. Thus, a single attack can take four different dice throws, one with an obtuse addition of heterogeneous dice.

This takes entirely too long to work through and slows down combat significantly. It also turned out that many times the combat would go a few rounds where nobody was hurt and then, blam, somebody gets a crit and a combatant is killed. It definitely produced some of the tension and feel of old-time Swords and Sorcery novels; but, it just creeped along at a snails pace at the table.

An example:
Pangaarl Krin, corsair of Pan Tang, wields Odo, a Fire Elemental bound in the form of a battle ax. Pangaarl and his band of ne'er-do-wells have trapped a clan of Kronks (think orcs that look a bit like orangutans) in a room at the top of a staircase. Pangaarl takes his flaming ax and sets into the door, hacking it to smoldering pieces. He then bursts through the doorway, ax swinging at two Kronks trying to stop the onrush. The Kronks bear puglunks, iron shod staves that allow two attacks per round.

Pangaarl closes; but, the Kronks are ready for him. They attack first, twice each, followed by Pangaarl's battle ax attack on them. In addition, Pangaarl calls for Odo to belch forth a burst of flame at a Kronk. This one round of attack ends up requiring 14 separate rolls - far too many for a smooth and speedy combat round.

  1. Kronk 1 rolls first attack (d100) and misses.
  2. Kronk 1 rolls second attack (d100 at -20) and hits.
  3. Pangaarl rolls first parry (d100) and succeeds, blocking Kronk 1's second attack.
  4. Kronk 2 rolls first attack (d100) and hits.
  5. Pangaarl rolls second parry (d100 at -20) and fails.
  6. Kronk 2 rolls damage (1d8).
  7. Pangaarl rolls armor soak (1d8-1) and ends up taking one point of damage
  8. Kronk 2 rolls second second attack (d100 at -20) and misses.
  9. Pangaarl rolls attack (d100) and hits Kronk 2.
  10. Kronk 2 rolls parry (d100) and fails.
  11. Pangaarl rolls damage (1d8 + 1d6 + 2).
  12. Kronk 2 rolls soak (1d6-1) and ends up taking 11 points of damage.
  13. 11 points in one hit is a major wound, so Kronk 2 rolls a major wound (d100) throw and we find his jaw is broken.
  14. Odo bursts into flames, catching Kronk 2's hair afire and rolls damage (2d10) for another 7 points of damage.

Fourteen dice rolls! Count 'em, fourteen. For one combat round with three contestants. It took a fair bit of time and description to get through that round. The rolls help make a tense series of steps and add color to the description; but, it took 14 rolls for Pangaarl to take 1 point of damage and deal 18 points of damage and a major wound to Kronk 2.

I tried doing things like rolling multiple dice at once; but, trying to keep 3d100 separated and straight when dealing with a Kronk's roll was just too much in the heat of a session.

The magic system rocked and clearly fit the ambiance of the Elric novels. I'll have to do a post on my impression of the magic system in a couple of days. Today, however, I can say that before the next time I play Stormbringer I'm going to give the combat system a complete overhaul.

28 January 2012

Lonely Tower of Throng Keel Player Map

1 hex = 1 km

3. Unnamed village at castle
4. Fan Ha Well
5. Ol' Crabbies
6. Wetlans Village
7. Nyor Ten Village
9. Sunken Ribs' Graveyard
10. The Castle of Tumbling Lotus

Yes, I know I skipped some numbers. On the referee's map the numbers go up past 10, too. Apart from the eponymous adventure site, I don't have anything pre-generated for each possible area of interest on the player's map. Just names.

The Castle of Tumbling Lotus is home base for the crew tonight. They decided to play a sorcerer and pirate captain duo from Pan Tang, dipping into the darker side of story telling.

Updated: Using the same map for starting up a campaign with the full crew in two weeks. Home base may or may not be the Castle of Tumbling Lotus at start when playing with the full crew.

27 January 2012

Rock the Bass

Tonight was probably the most fun I've ever had playing music.

My twin daughters are 3 years old and just starting to turn into little adults. Tonight they decided our make believe play was to be in the local cafe with open mic night. I played either bass or recorder and they sang and danced. After one night playing together, our repertoire includes:

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
Cinderella and Her Prince Waltz - this is an improvisational dance number with accompanying bass

Then we switched bands. Hirono took iPad and played blues keyboard while I played bass. We played "Happy Birthday To You" by the Beatles while the girls danced.

Fun times!

The Lonely Tower of Throng Keel

Here's the adventure description for Saturday night.

Among the craggy shores of The Serpent's Teeth hides the abandoned lair of a sorcerer from an elder race. The Melnibonean who dwelt there was rumored to study the secrets of Chaos Incarnate. He has not been seen nor heard from in nearly two decades. What has become of him and what treasures await in his inner sanctums?

As noted below, I lost my notebook and have to wing it on Saturday night. Characters are rolled and ready. Let's get this show on the road!

26 January 2012

Winging It

So today was another MacWorld presentation. This one was pretty tame. I guess we fixed the worst of the installer issues and folks are quiescent now. We've got a good cache of improvements coming out soon now, too.

Unfortunately, I left my shiny new bag in the taxi today. So my notes from the presentation, the questions the audience asked, are currently being hunted down. The notebook also contained my map and encounter tables for the upcoming campaign kickoff on Saturday night.

Looks like I'll have to wing Saturday night's game. This actually heightens my excitement. There's a few minor things I'll have to recreate, like the random encounter tables for the adventure site itself and the effects of the Chaos Vein; but, otherwise I'm good for just improv for the rest of the game.

25 January 2012

Elegant Chaos

Law versus Chaos. This is the nature of reality in the Young Kingdoms. Every idea, every deed, every nebulous entity in existence fights either on the side of Law or Chaos. There is nothing else. No Good or Evil. No Balance. Only the Eternal Struggle.

Magic is chaos, wild and untamed, the work of demons. Sorcerers bind demons to their will with horrific sacrifices and rare ointments so that they might control the very fabric of reality itself. Demons are creatures of Chaos, spawned from the Hells dominated by the roiling, seething stuff of Chaos.

Law is the root of civilization, the boon of humanity, the source of order and growth in Nature. All that the young race of humanity deems good.

Law and Chaos can never be reconciled.

This is the setup to the kickoff session in a new campaign. We're starting small, with just a couple folks from our normal group to see how the new game system goes.

18 January 2012

Gaming Porn

Here's some gaming porn for all you RPG junkees. Zak asks interesting questions.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be? Ah, my players haven't found it yet - though it lives on Sir Betlowe's estate. A lake-filled cave at Betlowe quarry, the only source of building stone for the county, has caused the death of two peasants in the past five years. One was found floating in the lake, the flesh ground from the front of his body in a most gruesome way. The other had a large, smoking hole in her chest as if she'd been pierced with a giant's spear.

2. When was the last time you GMed? End of Sept, 2011. It was a good solid campaign of two years and about 40 sessions. I'm taking a break.

3. When was the last time you played? A couple weeks ago in the Hill Cantons.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to. I'm back in the saddle again starting Jan 28 for a Saturday night session. Here's the homebrew we're playing:

Amongst the craggy shores of the Serpent's Teeth hides the abandoned lair of a sorcerer from an elder race.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things? Try to remember what the heck I was just talking about.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play? Salads or nuts. That just sounds weird now that I write it down; but, its true.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting? Absolutely.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing? Deciding to jump through a glowing gate following a lone fighter in our group, figuring he'd need my help. I was playing a peasant farmer, so the only real help I could provide was holding the torch for him or clandestinely removing silver daggers from the crazy loot.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither? No. Our setting is light hearted; but, keeps a serious undertone to it all.

10. What do you do with goblins? They sell fruit.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)? Office politics.

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now? The dice indicating that, in the heat of battle against the Earl of Bayeux, the player character literally lost his mind and fled mad from the field. His own earl was at his side. To make matters worse, the same player character also went mad at the last major battle literally when he faced the enemy Saxon king. That poor character was a psychic wreck, which the player admirably portrayed.

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it? I just bought it.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator? I like the no-name amateur stuff at Deviant Art. The vast majority just doesn't fit; but, there are some real gems. I use a lot of abstract art and more evocative work rather than illustrative. This wiki chronicles a number of pieces that inspired our last campaign - or at least the first third of it until I just didn't have the energy to keep the journal going.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid? It has a few times. I've not done any horror sessions in the last 6 or 7 years, so its been a while - at least as far as I know. They've been freaked out lately, though.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever) Any time I run B2: Keep on the Borderlands. Probably my favorite was with my nephews. I played it too adult, I think; but, you could tell they were startled and into the adventure story. Next time I'd lighten the rules. On a side topic, I've look at the kiddie RPGs and the boys are too mature for those.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in? Lots of light. Big table. Giant white board and plenty of markers. Space to pace - I usually don't sit down when I referee.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be? I'm pretty two-dimensional when it comes to gaming. Hex and counter wargames on one hand, RPGs on the other. Variants on the wargames with little plastic pieces work well, too. So I'd have to go with Risk and Stormbringer.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be? Jack Vance. The designers at Avalon Hill.

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table? Ones who like to throw out their own ideas and go with the hooks.

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms? Office politics. Lots of it.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't? Yeah, one I want to write. That's for another post someday.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go? Not really. My wife a little bit. They're usually one sided and brief. The are also friends and family who read the title of my gaming posts and presumably stop reading.

15 January 2012

The Serpent's Teeth

Here's the player's map for our upcoming foray into Swords and Sorcery pulp fantasy. Its pretty unadorned (though the referee's map has lots more to it.) Unfortunately, the text of some areas is hard to read in this image; but, the bulk of the early adventuring occurs in hexes 21.44 and 22.44 - at the Castle of Tumbling Lotus and Throng's Keel respectively.

13 January 2012

Swords and Dark Sorcery Encounter Tables

So I'm getting ready for a new, short RPG campaign. Its probably only going to be 2-3 sessions, though if it turns out we want to keep going we might go for a dozen or more longer. Its a grim world of Chaos eternally struggling against Low, ala Michael Moorcock.

Anyway, I'm going for a high fantasy sandbox style of play. The setting is at the cusp of a craggy seashore, great desert and fetid swamp. Below are the random encounter tables I'm using, or at least the fetid swamp part of the random encounter tables. I used the methodology described over at the Welsh Piper as a framework. Tables exist for the rocky crags, water seas and desert as well.

Mist Marsh Encounter Tables (1d20)
1 on 1d4 per day or 5 km travel
1-4 Dinosaur
5-8 Pest
9-11 Humanoid
12-13 Undead
14-15 Chaos Creature
16-18 Hazard
19-20 Hazard + Reroll

Dinosaur Subtable (1d20)
1-2 Allosaurus (1d4)
3 Aukylosaurus
4-6 Giant Snail
7 Brontosaurus (1d8)
8-9 Giant Crab (1d3)
10-11 Diatrym (1d12)
12-13 Monoclonius (2d10)
14 Plesiosaur (2d4)
15-16 Pteronadon (1d2)
17 Stegosaurus
18 Triceratops
19 Tyrannosaurus Rex
20 Velociraptor

1 Howler Monkey (1d20)
2 Panther
3 Water Buffalo (2d4)
4 Crocodile (1d8)
5 Deer (2d4)
6 Dog, Feral (2d4)
7 Spider, poisonous
8 Insects, swarm of biting bugs
9 Spider, giant
10 Frog, giant (1d4)
11 Barracuda, school
12 Giant Pike (1d2)
13 Boar, wild
14 Snake, poisonous
15 Snake, giant
16 Catfish, giant (1d3)
17 Rat, swarm
18 Beetle, giant (1d2)
19 Praying Mantis, giant
20 Intelligent Mold

Chaos Creature (1d20)
1 Basalisk
2 Blob
3 Dryad
4 Elemental (dice for element)
5 Gargoyle (1d4)
6 Golem
7 Medusa
8 Griffon
9 Hippogriff
10 Demon (dice for type and power)
11 Manticore
12 Tree, carnivorous
13 Unicorn
14 Kronk (1d30)
15 Warg
16 Wyvern
17 Harpy
18 Minotaur
19 Naga
20 Will O'Wisp

Humanoid (1d8)
1 Giant (dice for element) (1d3)
2 Kronk (1d30)
3 Ogre
4 Troll (1d3)
5 Human (1d12)
6 Myrrhyn (1d12)
7 Lizardman (1d12)
8 Adventurers (1d6)

Undead (1d8)
1 Ghost
2-4 Zombie
5-6 Skeleton
7-8 Ghoul

Hazard (1d10)
1 River
2 Quicksand
3 Flaming Gas
4 Lake
5 Impenetrable Undergrowth
6 Ruin
7 Cliff, dropoff
8 Sink Hole
9 Thicker Fog
10 Cave/Tunnel

05 January 2012

New Year Meme

Tagged by Toast.

1. What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?

Played a G+ Hangout RPG. It was a great experience and I’ll run a few in the coming month. RPGers around the world, you’re welcome to join (Toast, this means you!)

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Get back on NHE, and I kept it.

2012 is get back to the gym. I will keep it.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yes, our nanny. Also, one of my best local friends had their first child Monday, which is technically 2012.

4. Did anyone close to you die?


5. What places did you visit?

India, Holland, Japan, Germany. Layover in London, if that counts.

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?

High fantasy. I’ve been playing Pendragon, a low fantasy setting, pretty exclusively for about 20 months. Its time for some high fantasy. It will be through Google+ Hangouts as well, so can include a wide variety of time zone people (generally East Coast US to Hawaii, down to South America.)

7. What dates from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Sept 28, when Squire Arthur pulled Excalibur from the stone outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. Baron Hitchen (Chris’ player character) was the first nobleman on the scene and the first knight to bow to Arthur. It was a daunting moment for game mastering an RPG; but, my players were suitably impressed so I think it went pretty well.

8. What was your biggest achievement(s) of the year?

Pulling off the sword from the stone scene. See above.

9. What was your biggest failure?

A strange malaise at work.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Minor colds.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Windows laptop. I’ve branched out into all kinds of side projects, learned four new computer languages and dabbled in online databases. Its led me to an interesting new mission in my spare time.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

The Occupy Wall Street movement.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

The GOP debate audiences.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Mortgage. Day care.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

My daughters getting out of diapers. Both of them. And there’re very few accidents now.

16. What song will always remind you of 2011?

“Ballerina Girl”, by Lionel Ritchie. Its totally a Daddy thing.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) Happier or sadder?
b) thinner or fatter?
About the same.
c) richer or poorer?
Poorer. Its the long slide, man.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Sleeping. Scratch that, playing music. I started up on the bass again last week and the girls now play in front of my while I practice, sometimes picking up a guitar or recorder or sitting down at the piano.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Wasted daydreams.

20. How did you spend Christmas this year?

Embroiled in a chaotic maelstrom of paper, ribbons, cards and children.

21. Did you fall in love in 2011?

Every time I read a nighttime story.

22. How was work?


What was your favorite TV program?

What’s TV?

24. What did you do for your birthday in 2011?

Dinner at a new restaurant in town, Nachtmarkt. Its Austrian cuisine and the chef is a task master. The food was impeccable.

. What was the best book you read?

The 1981 edition rules for Stormbringer.

I fell in love with its magic and character generation systems. It is definitely my next game system.

There is virtually no player choice in the character you’re allotted. Everything is determined by the dice. It can be a challenge when you get a loser. And the odds are better that you play an uneducated farmer than that you play a magic wielding character of any form. Still, every character seems to end up with an interesting personality and role in the story.

The magic system is all through intermediaries. Those who can cast magic do so by summoning and binding demons or elementals. This leaves for a very interesting dynamic for the sorcerer and a whole host of interesting plots. There’s also a tremendous amount of power inequality possible, with the same party containing weak Red Shirts and super powered mages. It takes a sophisticated group to play it; but, its fun as all get out.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Pandora. Its been a sad year musically.

27. What did you want and get?


28. What did you want and not get?


29. W
hat was your favorite film of this year?

What’s a film?

30. Did you make some new friends this year?

Yes, though all online.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

The demise of the Fox News empire.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?

Top of the pile.

33. What kept you sane?

Long walks.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

The Arab Spring.

35. What political issue stirred you the least?

Most anything domestic.

36. Best sports moment?

Forward flip off the double stroller into a fake snow bank on the street corner.

37. Who was the best new person you met?

ChrisK, of Hill Cantons. He’s the dude who got me into G+ RPG games.

38. Burn any bridges?

I hope not. I’ve been pretty rough edged at work lately.

39. Best new restaurant you went to?


40. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011.

Unchain the colors before my eyes,
Yesterday's sorrows, tomorrow's white lies.
Scan the horizon, the clouds take me higher,
I shall return from out of the fire.
- from “Strange World” by Steve Harris, Paul Di’anno