1D6 Settings

I’ve been making impulsive RPG purchases over the past few weeks, burning through some Christmas gift cash. There are much more important things I need such as food, clothes and other essentials, but it wouldn’t be in the spirit of gift-giving if that tenner from my Auntie went towards a tank full of diesel for the car. Instead, I’ve been browsing through eBay looking to expand my RPG horizons.

I’ve been drawn towards a couple of games purely on their setting, as they both seem to offer an opportunity to explore imaginative corners of worlds that I find fascinating. I used to have the JUDGE DREDD RPG back in the day, but I’ve lost it along the way, I think we only played it once. What could be more appealing than to patrol Wincey Willis Plaza to apprehend a perp in Rusty Lee Block? Mega-City One is such a rich setting that the scenarios write themselves. I seem to remember being a bit po-faced about it when I was 15, but now I can see the humour would play well with our group.

I didn’t know anything about THE DYING EARTH RPG, produced by Pelgrane Press, until I spotted it on a shelfie. It was released in 2001, long after I’d stopped buying new games, and it’s one of those new-fangled story-based rules that sound interesting, but I can’t imagine actually playing them. The rules are very entertaining to read and worth it for the little quirky ideas and the additional detail around Vance’s Dying Earth.

This is the first of our One-D-Six lists. This is how it works – roll a d6 – 1 is a critical, while 6 is a fumble!

1 – CRITICAL HIT – The Young Kingdoms

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The setting of the cyclical history of the Eternal Champion, which was conceived as an antithesis to the anodyne Middle Earth. The world of Elric is by turns exotic, nasty, inventive, diverse and fantastical and a natural setting for a role-playing system. The battle between chaos and law and the mastery of the elements and demons gives a very immersive and convincing magical system.

We were Moorcock fan-boys back in the day, so we would love the sense of being bit-players in the stories that we knew well by occasionally meeting characters from the books. Our Player Characters were Non-Player Characters in the stories of Elric.

2 – Dying Earth DEmap

Recently I’ve been rediscovering Jack Vance’s world set at the end of time, with the sun fading, a world where magic is freely available. Reading the yellowing pages of the paperbacks that I devoured as a teenage is a nostalgic trip, to a place and an author that I adored.  It’s well documented that Gary Gygax took his inspiration for D&D magic from Vance, but other than ‘levels’ and the limits to memorising spells, the Dying Earth is far removed from the generic setting of GreyHawk. Foppish characters with razor-sharp wit, combined with elegant use of language make Dying Earth strange and wonderful.

Although we’ve never set any adventures in Vance’s world, after reading his books over the summer of 1986, my style of GMing was never the same, all of my Runequest Adventures were inflected through the prism of Vance. In 2005, when we had a brief dalliance with D&D, I created Azir Voon, a magician character inspired by the books of Vance. He studied at the Vermillion University and believed that that magic could be comprehended through the physiology of the eye. His motivation for delving through dungeons was to collect more specimens for his collection.

3 – Mega City One

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Thanks to the recent publicity around the return of the Dark Judges and the Dredd Mega Collection, I’ve returned to Mega City One after a thirty year break. As a setting it’s sharply satirical, hyper-real and darkly humorous and the judges have a great Player Character motivation to stay ahead of the perps.

4 – Cthulhu (1920s)

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Watch a season of BOARDWALK EMPIRE and you can appreciate why the roaring twenties is such a rich setting for role-playing. It has it all – gangsters, conspiracy, the rise of the KKK, republicanism in Ireland, and much, much more. This was a period of analogue globalisation, where it was possible to travel the world, but very slowly.

Cthulhu in the twenties works well because it was the age of exploration and plundering of ancient sites. It is possible to create world-spanning adventures yet create the experience of being isolated. Alone, with nothing but a brown derby… roll SAN.

5 – Glorantha

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For much of the eighties, we were in a love/ hate relationship with our parallel existence on the plains of Prax. We loved the character of the place, the other worldly gods and creatures; we hated the fact it was so dense and that there were so many supplements that we couldn’t afford.

Now we are more relaxed and have a more laid-back attitude to the place, as we appreciate that OUR Glorantha can be very different from the published version. We have three versions in play at the moment: one in the corner of Prax, at the end of The River of Cradles in the employ of a Lunar noble; another campaign in the plains of Balazar, carving a living as a mercenary under the wary eye of the Lunars; and finally, a campaign set around Sartar, where barbarian clans are in open rebellion against the Lunar occupation.

6 – FUMBLE! – Gotham 

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I’ve never really been a fan of the ‘Supers’ genre of RPGs, preferring grit and jeopardy to sheer fire-power. If I had extending limbs, I don’t think I’d bother leaving the house.

If the recent TV series has told us anything, it that there is nothing intrinsically interesting about the Batman’s stomping ground – it’s New York with 40 watt bulbs – it’s the characters that give the place its colour. Specifically, it’s the bad guys that make the setting interesting, even the Batman is a bit boring. When’s the Penguin coming back on?

The Return to Apple Lane

Grindle’s Pawnshop was the first ever scenario that I ran, it came bundled in the box with RUNEQUEST. When it comes to RUNEQUEST, setting is everything, and the slim booklet of APPLE LANE was probably the most accessible way in to the world of Glorantha. It featured a hamlet set within the foothills of Sartar populated by interesting NPCs hiding secrets and lies. The siege at Grindle’s Pawnshop was the feature scenario. In the original, Grindle had purchased some exotic items from adventurers who had taken a crystal of Toothsharp from a gang of Baboons. Through the power of divination, Grindle knew that there was an attack on his shop planned, so he employs the player characters to protect his home, and more importantly, the artefact.

The Gamesmaster had to leave the room while the players decide where they are going to hide the crystal, which I always found a nice touch, an element that I preserved in this ‘remake’ or ‘revival’ of the classic scenario. The version that we recently played using the RQ6 rules was based on the scenario in THE SARTAR COMPANION that was published by Moon Design (for HeroQuest). There are elements of the old version (by way of a homage) but the story has developed to fit within the rich, dense history of the region provided by the supplement and SARTAR KINGDOM OF HEROES.

Below, there’s a run through of our game, it’s really there for our benefit (as a recap) but if you like that kind of thing, then please read on. Otherwise, you can leave now and do something more interesting instead. This was the third session using the Runequest 6 rules. Prior to this there was a character generation session and a couple of gentle encounters to get us into the rules. In addition to the character creation in the rules, I also walked them through some of the story elements provided in the HeroQuest supplements, so they could understand their role within the clan.

They are Olmarthings, a rebellious clan within the Colymar tribe, who are still reeling from the crushing of the Starbrow Rebellion by the Lunars five years previous to the beginning of the adventure. King Kangarl has been installed in the as a puppet and is rumoured to be consorting with a witch. He has declared Grindle Goodsell as an outlaw. A gang of thugs and mercenaries are being recruited to pay a ‘visit’ to Grindle. The Chieftain of the Olmarth, Gordanger, who’s father was the former king and an associate of Grindle. His father made an oath to Grindle as a loyal thane of The House of Sartar, to protect him. He has sent the player characters North to warn Grindle of the impending attack.

ASBORN’S STEAD

After a turbulent night on the edge of the Colymar Wilds, LEIKA and ORLAKOR took time to rest and dried their clothes in the relative comfort of Asborn’s stead. Their host introduced them to Garth, a member of the Blackspears, from the wilds. The Blackspears, also known as the Anmangarn, breed black bulls and are the custodians of the fabled blackspear – a powerful symbol of the Colymar tribe – they are fierce warriors who are both feared and respected by the other clans, despite being in an open feud with King Kangarl. Olgarth was very respectful towards Leika, he explained the young girl that they ‘rescued’ was almost certainly a thrall of the Lunar merchant. The language she speaks is Pelorian, a part of the Empire far to the north, beyond Dorastor. Asborn is concerned that the young girl refuses to bathe and that the women of the tribe have been unsuccessful in their attempts to reach out to her. The girl has made a small horse by banding twigs together. When Orlakor looked closer, it was a unicorn, with its horn removed, she handed the ‘horn’ to him.

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They started heading to Apple Lane so they could arrive before dusk. On the way, they saw the Lunar ‘slaver’ being attacked by trollkin riding giant wasps. They remained at a distance, watching the melee, leaving the merchant to his fate. They were too conspicuous, when the trollkin had ransacked the prone body of the merchant, they turned their attention to Leika and Orlakor who fought them off, thanks to a little luck.

THE TIN INN

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Apple Lane is a sleepy hamlet located in disputed territory between the Colymar and Malani Tribes.  It marks a crossroads between Jonstown, Runegate and Clearwine and it is surrounded by orchards tended by the Hiording clan. As they entered, they introduced themselves to a curious smithy who introduced himself as PIKU from the wandering metal-work tribe known as Third Eye Blue, so-called because of a blue circle tattooed on their forehead. He introduced his family – his wife Valeeda and daughter Yaku.

There was no one home at the Pawnshop so they headed to the Tin Inn, so called because of its tin roof, the sound of the rain hammering is deafening, but inside it was warm, full of a throng of bodies enjoying a hog-roast and their famous cider. There were farmers nursing their pots of ale, a several adventurers in black (probably from Pavis plotting suspiciously in a corner booth), travellers and the local thane.

Pramble a scholar and poet befriended Leika and Orlakor and embellished their story of Trollkin bashing as a tale of Giant slaying (drawing some unwanted attention from the others in the tavern). He also had stories about:

Hofstaring Treeleaper, the greatest king the Culbrea ever had. Over 100 years old when he fought Starbrow’s Rebellion, he was famous for his leaping ability and his incredible magic spear Chest-Breaker that fought on its own. He was almost killed when the Empire sacked Boldhome but escaped with his leap. Beloved by the Storm God, King Hofstaring summoned the great flood that destroyed the Lunar Army before the Hill of Orlanth Victorious. It is a source of great shame for the Culbrea that Hofstaring’s soul suffers in a Lunar Hell rather than serving as a thane of the gods as he deserves.

He also talked of rumours of the kin of the Chieftain of the Grey Dog Clan going missing in mysterious circumstances. After a while, he introduced them to Squinch Greybeard, a scholar, and Quackjohn, a duck who are both associates of Grindle.

PROTECTING GRINDLE 

Like everyone in the region, Grindle has had to sign a fealty to the Lunars and acts as the local tax collector. In his home, there is evidence that he is no longer the rich trader that once used his wealth to support the freedom of Boldhome.

He’s old and unmoved by the news that he is now an outlaw. Polite and gentle, he dismissed the idea that the Lunars and the Colymar king are after his wealth. He showed Leika and Orlakor his greatest remaining treasures:

THE EYE OF THE HALFBIRD – a gemstone that he got from one of the masters of luck and death over a decade ago. He said that it was the mortal eye of the immortal Halfbird – a strange creature born before the Emperor. Half of it proved mortal and is little more than a skeleton, the other half seeks to restore the dead half alive.

THE LEAD GRIMOIRE – a book that was recovered from a treacherous wizard some years back. He was outfitting an expedition to Cliffhome to speak to the Cragspider. He tried to recover the Grimoire (saying that it was important for a future meeting), but never pay back the loan.

THE IRON CARDINAL’S EGG – Originating from Wenelia from the ruins of the Slants. If properly warmed and tended, it will hatch a chick, but he was uncertain of the market value of a live Iron Cardinal!

Before long, a crowd of Tharlings, armed with an assortment of clubs and spears, began to gather around the shop. They were lead by Darsten, who began issuing threats through a ‘spy-hatch’ in the heavy-door. Leika and Orlakor laid traps and hid the artefacts to protect Grindle’s shop (and temple) being attacked.

“Grindle Goodsell you have been declared an outlaw by King Kangarl…” Darsten, thane of the Tharlings, parleyed for a short while, asking for Grindle to give himself over to the posse. The discussions were broken when a woman with her face painted half blue and half red rode into town flanked by Lunar cavalry. She hissed commands in a foreign tongue. She was looking for ‘the eye’ and insisted that it was handed over. Leika and Orlakor considered handing it over, but were persuaded by Grindle that it would not be good for the region if they conceded to the demands of the witch.

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Dronlan Swordsharp, the thane of Apple Lane, steps forward and declares that Grindle is under his protection and they should leave the area. There was a tense standoff until Erianda the witch, exasperated, dismounted, drew two iron scimitars and dismembered Dronlon. She then barked an instruction: “kill them all and burn down the place.”

She left with the Lunar soldiers. Seeing the opportunity to strike, Leika pierced Darsten’s throat with her spear, through the door. Orlakor picked off the Pavian mercenaries with his bow. Grindle stubbornly remained in his temple, invoking spirits of warding to protect his inner sanctum.

After a steadfast battle, The Tharlings were routed and the mercenaries killed. As they retreated they looked at Leika, framed in the doorway, and shouted, “Blackspears!”

Now, they need to escape, before the Lunars return and raze the Pawnshop to the ground.

Year on the GROG 2015

On the break of the new year, we had a Twitter conversation inspired (ripped-off from…) The Gamers’ Table Podcast. I can’t pretend to understand what’s going on and the odd relationships between all of the participants at Gamers’ Table, but I do enjoy the idea that they set a series of resolutions and challenges for each other in the first episode of the year. Our commitments are at risk at being buried in a Twitter timeline, so I have knocked up this post to remind the other Armchair Adventurers exactly what they’ve signed up to for the following year:

GROUP CHALLENGES

Over the past few years, our monthly meetings have been worked out on a month by month basis, as if we dare not commit to a regular session in case it begins to seem like a chore. When a session comes to an end and we are gathering the empty ‘non-alcoholic’ beer bottles, we tentatively flirt around the dates of the next session like its some kind of Japanese courtship ritual – we don’t feel safe on committing to a date there and then in case it offends some unwritten etiquette. This year, we have promised to: have at least one session a month PLUS one session virtually using Roll 20.

After the brilliant January session (playing Runequest’s Borderlands ‘The Condor Crags’) we were still dithering …

In 2014 we were all captivated by the potential of RUNEQUEST 6, but by our own admission, when it comes to Runequest, we are a little ‘vanilla’ when it comes to magic. In RQ 2nd edition the magic is as best ‘mechanical’ and at worse ‘a bit boring’. The RQ6 rules seem to offer a bit of pep and vim to the notion of magic with interesting, dynamic rules for different orders of magic. Therefore we set ourselves the task of: understanding the rules of RQ6 to make our settings infused with magic.

Last year, inspired by the brilliant Mark Barrowcliffe book THE ELFISH GENE, we began writing the memoir of The Armchair Adventurer’s Club with a view of releasing it as an e-book. We were 20 thousand words in when, as usual, we came to a pause and stayed there. In 2015, we are going to revive the project with the aim of getting some or all of it out there for the world to read, in the meantime we’ve pledged to complete the memoir for our own amusement. A curry in February has already been planned so we can pick up the pieces.

Finally, the most ambitious (therefore improbable) resolution is for us to attend this year’s Dragonmeet Convention.   Yeah, right … like the collective Fun Prevention Officers are going to agree to THAT one!

BLYTHY (@SJAMB7)

Blythy sacrificed his eye-sight in 1982 to painting 15mm Traveller miniatures (or minis as Gamer’s Table might say). They were a labour of love and enhanced our experience of playing Traveller back in the early 1980s. Traveller was the most prominent planet-hopping game in the UK back in the day, so it was one of our main systems. We would pour over the articles provided by White Dwarf to try and make sense of the worlds, to no avail, but as time went on, the scenarios in White Dwarf had moved-on at the same time that we had moved-on and weren’t playing Traveller as much. Therefore 2015 is a year that we will play a one-off Traveller scenario from WHITE DWARF using the fabulous minis.

EDDY (@EDINTHESAND)

Eddy was our ‘go-to’ Keeper, for Choasium’s  prolific supplements in the 80s. He led us through many of the greats from the period as he is the most enthusiastic lover of all things Lovecraft. Since the reunion of the group he’s been running Runequest … he is going to run a Runequest 6 game in 2015 in addition, he promises to run the Cthulhu campaign THE SPAWN OF AZATHOTH.

DIRK THE DICE (@armchairadvent)

I have always been totally obsessed by post-apocalyptic narratives. Back in the early 1980s, there were four posters on my wall: Madness – Sugg’s daft face gurning above my bed; Altered Images – Claire Grogan’s wonderfully pretty face gurning above my bed; the Starburst poster for Excalibur; and a poster of Mad Max walking along a desolate road with his dog. I really wanted the Fantasy Games Unlimited rules for AFTERMATH, but I could not afford it, besides Blythy was already running Gamma World. Now that I am older and have the capacity to indulge, I bought myself a copy of the AFTERMATH rules for Christmas. This year, I intend to run a one off game of AFTERMATH  even though the rules seem incredible complex.

So, there you have it. This time next year, you can judge us!

Runequest 6 – Back to the Future (Part Two)

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Now that we have had a couple of sessions playing with the new Runequest 6 (RQ6) rules, its possible to make some reflections on first impressions. We are dyed-in-the-wool evangelists for Basic Role Playing (BRP) from Choasium in its various incarnations – specifically Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer and second edition Runequest. For our group, it suits our style of play, as its the kind of rule system that keeps out of the way until it’s needed. We like the idea of story-telling, character building and intrigue, but we also come alive when conflict and challenges need to be resolved by dice-rolls. BRP is a perfect match to this balance, which explains why it works so well with Call of Cthulhu: the system is light during the investigations but during times of conflict it introduces a sense of excitement and unpredictability.

Our group reformed after a 25 year hiatus and revisited our old stomping grounds in Glorantha – the wilds of Balazar and the far corners of Prax – exploring some of the classic supplements from the early 1980s: Griffin Mountain and Borderlands. Recently, we began to develop a familiar unease about the rules that we started to feel thirty years ago. When we played Runequest (second edition) back in the day, we soon made mental calculations that could anticipate our potential for success when it came to combat. For example, when we were helping Duke Raus of Rone commit acts of genocide against Newtlings – ethnic cleansing with delicious tails – the Player Characters realised that it was impossible for the little-lizards to do any damage unless they had a critical hit.

The characters we were using for the Borderlands campaign were tough (they need to be). We only have a small group so we need to double up with Player Characters, combat became a familiar pattern of “I hit”, “the opponent parries”, “I hit again”, “they parry again” and so on. The GM was frustrated at the lack of options available to the NPCs, other than spells or chucking in an usual weapon combo (a net and trident) there were too little options for Newtllings to benefit from their home-advantage.

It was time for us to investigate what has been going on in the hobby, while were were off the grid …

RUNEQUEST 6

First thing to say is that the rule-book is very handsomely produced. I took it on holiday last year and there was a real pleasure in flicking through the pages and discovering new little corners of interest. Hard copies are relatively difficult to come across, but there is a PDF download available from The Design Mechanism. There’s also a free edition of ‘Essentials’ available for the kindle (free of charge) but the rendering distorts the format to such a degree that it’s almost impossible to read.

The rules are both familiar and different/ old and new, a bit like Sharon Osbourne, there is the resemblance to the old rules but there are elements that are very different. The design of the rules reflects this as there is a homage to the original cover, a running story to explain some of the rules (remember Rurick?) and there’s generous use of runes from Glorantha to illustrate the chapter headings.

Character Creation is broadly the same as in the second edition – the attributes are the same and rolled in the same way so that humans have a range between 3-18 (there’s an option to allocate points too). The skills are calculated by adding together attributes to provide a ‘base’ rather than using a bonus table. It also adopts the background and professions that were introduced in the third edition, but here the allocation of starting skills is much more generous. The best addition is the development of background for the character – the relationship with surviving members of the family, and determine their ‘passions’ and motivations for becoming an adventurer.

WOT, NO RESISTENCE TABLE?

Readers familiar with BRP will know that one of the key game mechanics is the use of a resistance table to resolve most conflicts. It’s a simple, but effective, means of pitting a character attribute against an opposing force to calculate the percentage difficulty on a D100. Lifting a treasure chest with a SIZ 14 when you have a STR 14 is a 50% chance, if you have STR 13, then there is a 45% chance and so on. Even dumb poltroons as the collective minds of The Armchair Adventurers can work with that level of mental arithmetic.

RQ6 dispenses with this approach and introduces the idea of OPPOSED ROLLS to pit skills against skills – if you have a 60% spot hidden and you are trying to find someone who is hiding with a Stealth 40%, both parties roll and if they if they both succeed then the highest roll wins (unless its a critical): The person looking rolls a 55 (success) but the person hiding rolls 35 (another success) so the person looking finds him, because he rolled higher.

It took a bit for us to get used to this concept (and to remember the number that had been rolled) but we are starting to think it’s a neat mechanic.

The GM can apply different grades of difficulty based for skills and combat,based on the circumstances (it’s dark, for example) by reducing the percentage chance of success in thirds. This is making our maths head hurt, but the table provided in the GM guide helps, its something we’ll get used to by playing more often (we used to struggle with the resistance table).

SCRAP! SCRAP!

It is the combat rules that have really sold RQ6 to our group because they create such colourful and descriptive situations. On the whole, fights are resolved much quicker in game time, and in time (when we get more familiar with the rules) it will also reduce the sense that the PCs are grinding out results against evenly matched opponents. Skills percentage are determined by combat styles, which can feature multiple weapon combinations (a Mercenary style, for example, can use an axe, shield, short sword and great axe all at the same percentage). This is based on the principle that combat training is likely to feature a combination of different weapons in case you are disarmed, or in different situations.

Without going into too much detail, there is a similar mechanic as the Opposed Rolls principle applied to combat (Differential Rolls) where levels of success are determined by the number rolled. If you are successful in attacking, and the defender fails parry, then the attacker can choose to implement a ‘special effect’ based on the weapon, if they get a critical then they can choose 2 special effects. For example, Leika got a critical against a weapon’s thane – the player chose to ‘Choose location’ and ‘Impale (to maximise damage: full damage strike to the head, killed him in an instant). The same principle applies if its the other way round – the attacker could fail and the defender get a successful parry – the chance to disarm an opponent or ‘pin the weapon’. The special effects are wonderfully tactical choices than can shift the balance of combat in interesting ways.

There are rules about weapon length and size that are great for us gamers who like a ‘lightweight’ sense of simulating the real-thing. The fatigue rules are less cumbersome than the third edition (but need the ‘divide by 3’ maths that we’re not very good at) and there a genuine sense of excitement during combat.

Healing spells are not as mechanical (I’ll write about magic in another post) so there is no chance of sticking an arm back on with a Healing 6. There’s no hit-points and the level of points per location have been increased, but combat remains lethal for those with low armour (sorry Conan).

Another interesting feature to help in moments of desperation are LUCK POINTS which are allocated by the GM at the start of every session. These may be deployed to ‘re-roll’ a result or to rescue a dire situation. It is a neater solution than offering an attribute multiplier … “you need to roll POW X2  to see whether or not you fall to your death”).

GLORANTHA

The second edition was indelibly associated with Glorantha. RQ6 is much more generic, with the promise of more Glorantha material to come in the future. I’ve done some conversion work that I’ll discuss in another post. The absence of setting is always an issue with a rules set and this is probably the biggest weakness of RQ6. The combat styles are interesting, but there are too few examples provided in the rules.

In my campaign I have brought together the rules-lite Heroquest, Sartar Supplement with the very crunchy RQ6, so far it’s providing some interesting results. Thirty three years later, Grindle’s Pawnshop seems very different…