Monday, December 10, 2012

Sword & Sorcery Character Backgrounds

In my previous post I created several characters from the USR System  for Newt Newport's mini sandbox module Blood of the Dragon, and added random profession rolls from Chaosium's Elric! This random profession received a further roll from Eric Simon's background tables for the Elric! game. I then suggested these sparse details be fleshed out by the players in which to establish starting relationships which tie the three players together at the start of the campaign, however loosely.

The idea to establish starting relationships amongst the new players is inspired by the game Fiasco from Bully Pulpit Games. With further consideration I believe the Game Master should go all the way with this random method.  Grab a Fiasco playset, and use its relationship tables to further define the starting relationships the players will need to discuss.

For this exercise I've pulled out Transatlantic, a Fiasco playset by E. Tage Larsen, and rolled two six sided dice for each of the starting players. The background details so far for these beginning S&S heroes were as such;Executioner's Guard, Penniless Peasant, and Hunter with an Animal Companion.

Drawing from Fiasco's set up guidelines the results from the Relationship tables will define these initial relations. The fact that the playset's genre does not match our Sword & Sorcery game world does not matter. The relationships found on the tables are general enough that they should be able to be shoe horned into the story.

The rolls end up being; 5-2 "ships passing in the night", 4-4 "dedicated bon vivants", and 1-5 "in-laws".

The Executioner's Guard and the Hunter are brother in laws. Married to the Guard's sister, he was brought into the family for his skill with hunting dogs. The Hunter enjoys his new found status as a minor celebrity among the cruel nobility of Dipur.

The Penniless Peasant is a friend from the Hunter's past life in the bleak hills of Karjah Pass and has been partying with the Hunter, putting on airs to impress the local lords and win service as captains in the army.

Unfortunately this has left them both broke. To gin up the cash they need to save face the Hunter wishes to use the family's prize hunting dogs to track down a dangerous and elusive beast from the Near Spires. It could be sold on the open market in Dipur for much coin. You may even be able to sell such beasts in the miserable village of Craigspire. A Lord Blackthorn is purchasing exotic animals. Some say for a menagerie, or circus for the entertainment of the locals.

Problem is those dogs are not entirely the Hunter's. They belong to his brother in law, a guard in the fearsome troop which carries out the will of the Grand Inquisitor. And the Penniless Peasant fears the wrath of such connected men. Unable to dissuade your friend from such a reckless act you are now far along the desolate trail  to Craigspire with the Hunter and his hunting dogs. Perhaps you could return the dogs to the Inquisitor's Executioner and explain all, seeking pardon for your aid in returning the prized dogs back to Dipur.

The aggrieved party is indeed furious, and frantic. The guard's position in the ranks of the Grand Inquisitor is dependent on the quality of his family's hunting dogs. Unfortunately no one has an eye for dogs better than his brother in law, a no good, thieving Hunter. And now he has taken some of the best into the Spires! The Grand Inquisitor has a lovely lion hunt planned in the next fortnight and will want Dipur's champion dogs along!

The party can now find itself gathered somewhere on the trail, or just outside of Craigspire, and dive right in to complications and dangerous NPC's!

For example;

Meeting on the shores of a dead lake on the road to Craigspire the Executionar's Guard demands of the Hunter to turn over his dogs. He cannot, they have been taken by Lord Blackthorn. The Hunter is expected to return to Craigspire in the morning and lead the dogs on a hunt into the Near Spires for the despotic lord who claims rule over the desolate plains. The maniacle Lord Blackthorn is obsessed with capturing several "Man Rats", vicious hybrids of demon-spawned magic found in the area of the Serpent's Tooth.Craigspire itself is three miles further north. The sun is setting low over the desert hills. A cold wind blows across the grey water, twisting the small fire lit at the Hunter's feet.

The Penniless Peasant is compelled to speak, "The two of you are the best animal handlers in Dipur. Surely we can deliver what this man asks and get paid for our troubles as well!"

"Or perhaps I should give this Lord Blackthorn you two bandits in exchange for my property!" Threatens the Guard, his hand on his blade. "Show me where this cur resides, lead me to our family's dogs." The Guard waves his meaty fist in the air, glaring at the Hunter.



"Cousin the dogs are safe, well cared for." The Hunter answers, shifting on his feet on the ash shore. "The Lord is absolutly mad about hunting. Obsessed in a way. He has insisted I lead the dogs in tomorrows hunt for these monsters he describes", the Hunter says.

"He took them inside his keep. A miserable brick pile from the ruins of some long dead empire, a single black round tower stands complete amongst ruined walls. The walls are manned by foul tempered nomads and watch the small town below."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Blood of the Dragon for Sword & Sorcery Gaming

I downloaded this small scenario pdf from d101 games days ago and went looking to see what it had to pilfer for my introductory fantasy campaign I've been crafting.

Holding true to its Sword and Sorcery inspiration I quickly decided the module was unsuitable for Fantasy Campaign #1.

Nothing left to do but craft a new Sword & Sorcery campaign and make it available for players who wish to game the rich journeys brought to life by such fine writers as Edger Rice Burroughs, Michael Moorcock, Lin Carter, Fritz Lieber, Robert H. Howard, August Derleth, etc.

Game mechanics will be Scott Malthouse's USR System, and your first "house rule" would be Human player characters only.

Sorcery is also not available to PC’s. This is not to say PC’s cannot attempt to learn the use of magic, or use enchanted items, or drink potions, or read the words off hide bound scrolls during game play. Just that starting PC's will be human and must use their skills and smarts to win glory in their deadly fantasy world.

Ripping off Thulsa's map for his World of Xoth should suffice to give my on the fly S&S homebrew campaign its physical underpinnings. Reviewing the gorgeous map I plop The Spires in a suitable location.


The Blood of the Dragon offers a small sandbox setting for your new PC's with one fleshed out small dungeon.The bleak landscape described is suitably sparse with frontier settlements inhabited by desperate and corrupt men. With the PC's background threads one should be able to get your players involved in desperate, dangerous situations.



Utilizing USR System I quickly generated a party of three warriors. Attribute set up was the same for all three characters; d10 Action, d8 Wit, and d6 Ego.

For specialisms they all had close combat and riding +2 in common. For each characters third specialism I mixed skulking, climbing, and ranged combat amongst the trio to give an overall roguish mix.

USR requires each starting character to have a background story. I've decided to use random rolls on background tables with guidance taken from the Fiasco rulebook to interpret the results. I'm using Chaosium's Elric! Background table for the first roll, and a long extinct optional background table which provides another layer of detail.


The Elric! Background Table; 


01-20 Warrior (Roll d10, 9-10 indicates Assassin as well).
21-30 Merchant (Roll d10, 8-10 means Trader, otherwise Shopkeeper).
31-45 Sailor (Roll d10, 9 indicates a Mate giving + 5% to all skills, 10 indicates a Captain, giving + 10% to all skills)
46-60 Hunter
61-65 Farmer
66-70 Priest
71-75 Noble
76-85 Thief
86-90 Beggar (Roll for afflictions).
91-00 Craftsman (specify Craft).


The second background table roll;

Remember that this is optional material for Elric...

Tables of Background

These tables are used after the adventurer occupation has been determined by the player. Simply roll 1d10 and refer to the descriptions given below. Not all the occupations are treated here (others will be published in a future issue of TATOU and maybe in the Chaosium Digest).

      Beggar             Craftperson          Hunter                   Merchant
d10
                       
1    Temple            City                        Kn: Area                Bad Associate
2    Spy                  Enemy Merchant Kn: Animal           Claim
3    Blackmail       Legacy                   Beasts' Curse        Antiquarian
4    Tout                Craft Secret          Hated by Baron     Slave Merchant
5    Catacombs    Embrss. Witness Kn: Treasure          Angered King
6    Corpses Tr.    Dexterity                Murder Witness   Caravaneer
7    Victim              Black Sheep         Resilient                 Ransomed
8    Kidnapper       Thief Murderer  Animal Companion War
9    Kn: City          Poverty                  Hunting site          Taxes
10  Free choice     Free choice            Free choice            Free choice


    Minor Noble                     Peasant Farmer                    Sailor     Slave
d10
1    Duelist                             Tax Collector                       Pirate                      Scars
2    Bracelet                           Peasant revolt                      Ports Knowledge Free Man
3    Royal Court                   Peasant Defender                Corsair                   Torturer Master
4    Don Juan                        Mercenaries                          Mutilated              Wizard Master
5    Ancestral Weapon        No money                             Watch                    Marked
6    Successful Merc.           Looted                                   Galerian                 Murderer
7    Domain Seized              Very Healthy                        Treasure Island    Miner
8    Rescuer                           Lord's Right                          Shipwrecked         Rescuer
9    Gambling Father           Away                                     Bad Luck              Storm
10  Free choice Free choice Free Choice Free choice

   
Warrior                                  Thief
d10

1    Gates Guard                   Last Survivor
2    Mercenary                    Secret Passage
3    Crusading Knight        Dexterity
4    Training                         Infamy mark
5    Executioner Grd.           Banned
6   Outcast                           Gangs War
7    Big Battle                        Sorcery
8    Temple Guard                Good Job
9    Desertion                         Ring
10  Free choice                     Free choice

 



My rolls came out very satisfactory for gaming in Blood of the Dragon's mini sandbox Sword & Sorcery world; Peasant - no money, Warriorr - executioner's guard, and Hunter - animal companion.

Most people capable of role play will be able to fashion a reason to be out on the ash plains of the Spires with a suspect crew just randomly rolled. The players and the game master should use these sparse details and create satisfying starting relations in which to launch the game session. The DM should use these story details and the NPC's own motivations to gin up a host of hoary problems for our grim faced adventurers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hunted Magician OpenQuest Character Concept


I must admit to my "house rules" concerning the casting of magic in the design of my OpenQuest Fantasy campaigns.

The core rules require a successful roll against your magic skill for your spell to be cast and take effect. If you fail your skill roll the spell does not take effect and you suffer a single magic point loss.

With an unmodified 33%-36% average starting Battle Magic skill level many character creation points need to to be invested to give any starting spells a decent chance of success.

A character who pursues Sorcery at character creation can expect to see up to +40 free character creation points in which to bump up their starting skill roll added in, but you are still looking at a steep price to pay for a reasonable chance of your spell casting to take effect.

In my campaigns I prefer a known spell to be automatically successful (excepting fumbles on 99,00) while a "successful" skill roll will cut the magic point cost of the spell in half. Therefore a magnitude 4 spell costs 4 magic points to cast, but if you roll a successful skill roll this cost is only 2. Fumbles can cause up to double the magic point cost and the possibility of other damaging effects. To give sorcery a more grim and darker aspect spell casters may sacrifice a living being during spell preparation to avoid any deadly effects from the result of a fumble roll.

This should create a magic system where methods of using magic points other than your characters own would be sought with hideous desire. Spells which took advantage of the spilt blood of sacrifice as well as protect the caster greater sought still.

Xagyg's Guide to Celestial Protraction is the name of the curious tome our Hunted Magician has had for many years. He has discovered at least two spells of sorcery buried in its complicated formula as well as the mastery of potions which cloud the judgement of the mind. It is his most prized possession and his shop is known for quality love elixirs and mind altering brews.

I sink the six magic points given at character creation into both Battle Magic and Sorcery. Battle Magic is a school of magic open to all characters at creation and I choose "Create Potion" and "Enhance Skill Influence" at two points each. The remaining two points are spent in the school of magic known as "Sorcery". These spells are completely made up and one is offensive and the other is defensive. Flame of Obru and Skin of Plazar are crafted to allow the spell caster to travel with some protection through other worldly planes. In the fantasy realm which our character finds himself these two spells create a devastating blast or a skin tight layer of physical protection.

The plot hooks which can be devised from arcane formula and obscure text should be endless for the enterprising GM. The need to protect a fragile vessel such as a parchment bound book should provide he charcter with endless motivation.

But why is this magician hunted? OpenQuest encourages you to begin character creation with a character concept. For the Hunted Magician I rolled on a table from Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque for some type of afflication. This ended up with a gambling addiction which has racked up an impressive debt in one of the lowest gaming houses of the starting sandbox city. The PC's debt is so far past due that there is no chance of squaring it except through the most magnificent sums. The criminals who the PC owes the debt have contracted assassins to kill you as an example to others. If your secret was exposed your small, successful alchemy business in the city would be ruined.


I have house ruled OpenQuest character creation some and the method is described in this post.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Retired Gladiator, a Character Concept for OpenQuest







The OpenQuest rule set makes for robust fighter character types especially with the application of Battle Magic to increase the players lethality in combat.

My post Magic for Non Magic Users discusses ways to apply the Battle Magic points available at character creation to customize the PC you want with the expenditure of six magic points of magnitude.

For this robust mountain of muscle I decide the Battle Magic points are to be spent towards "Gladiator School", and choose the magic spells Coordination and Enhance Skill Close Combat. Both at magnitude 3.

This will give our combatant a spurt of deadly energy in which to tap when the need arises. Since I house rule automatic spell casting success and magic point reduction for successful skill roles, successful skill roles have the benefit of allowing the Retired Gladiator to continue his murderous show far longer.

This is another reason why I've house ruled for automatic casting success. A fighting character should be able to rely on his ready sword arm at a moments notice, even if after a few combat rounds it leaves the PC exhausted and weary.

To complete our character concept a character background story is suggested, so here is ours:

Young, he was a slave since birth. Knowing little outside of the hell holes he grew up in and the gladiator school he defended his life in he has survived as an accomplished killer and showman. By earning the respect of the crowd and winning the grand tournament of gladiators he won the money to pay for his freedom.

By dumping generous points into Athletics, Dodge, Streetwise, Close Combat, and Unarmed Combat we have a one man wrecking machine.

By sticking him in the Foul Sand looking for something to do with his new found freedom and his new found small fortune in silver coins he should be a wanted member of any new forming adventure party.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

OpenQuest Character Creation; Cashiered Ranger

Further utilizing the material found on the blog Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque I will create the next ill fated player character for OpenQuest Fantasy Adventure Campaign #2.

This character of country birth worked as a scout in the army, but has been recently let go. Missing a cleverly set ambush while out on patrol many soldiers died. Only your savage fight for survival against grim odds spared your court martial. Back here in the city far from any one you know you are beginning to desire the safety of the wilderness.

OpenQuest Fantasy Adventure Campaign #2 is predicated on a dark fantasy setting with players urged to use human characters. This character is designed with the ability to function well in the wilderness surrounding the campaign's starting point.

Significant points are invested in the Combat Skills as well as Perception and Riding. As a ranger you carry very few personal possessions. What you have is usually tied in the bedroll at your feet. What few points you have in craft are intended for the repair of your outdoor gear and weapons.

Taking advantage of OpenQuest's suggested rules for Background, Appearance and Personality I give this poor mercenary an intriguing map with unknown inscriptions. Maybe one of his more learned friends could aid you in deciphering it?

All starting OpenQuest player characters receive six points worth of Magic Magnitude. These six points allow you to further customize and design the PC you have in mind.

For the ranger I keep it simple; a small package of abilities I will name "Ranger Lore", abilities he picked up growing up in the untamed northern forests. Clear Path (4 magnitude) is the ability to move through dense undergrowth as if it was clear terrain. The points of magnitude of the spell determines how many people the ranger can effect within 10 meters. A Heal (2 magnitude) spell will be extremely useful when it comes to weathering the extremes of wilderness adventuring.

While I have incorporated OpenQuest's magic requirements into the character creation process, you can see how I have not necessarily given the ranger an overtly wizardly nature. While the initial expenditure of magic points may seem an awkward mechanic for innate class like skills, consider the adventure implications of devices, quests, etc. which would enable the player to acquire magic point stores or otherwise overcome the built in limitations.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

USRPS/Champions Superhero Mash Up Conclusion

As I mentioned in the initial post regarding using USR to role play a supers campaign, I am going to use the Champions books Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth and Millennium City to create the starting campaign setting. Armed with some highlighters I skimmed STST looking for the adventure's important points.

Dr. Timothy Blank, the Viper scientist, was pretty necessary as his diabolical plans drive the plot. His desire to unleash a virus in a major metropolitan city after leaving the Viper Nest in the deserts of New Mexico helps establish Millennium City as our convenient home base for PC's.

The initial ghost town amusement park as cover for the Viper Nest hidden in the desert did not appeal to me. The thought of having the deranged mad scientist completely absent from the Nest in the opening acts seemed too much of a plot weakness for me as well. So I jettisoned both. However the PC's are "hooked" into being in the vicinity of Snake Gulch it will be at the same time Dr. Blank is making his explosive escape from the Nest with his breakthrough discovery: the Coil Gene. There is plenty of good info on the tension between the Nest Leader and Dr. Blank for a GM to fashion dramatic scenes of double crossing agents, compromised villains, and buffaloed heroes.

The aftermath of the first scenario can have PC heroes following leads back to Millennium City or returning to the city to lick their wounds.

With my initial PC's I created and their intertwined back story's it was a cinch to establish a time traveling accident in the desert, a Viper Nest confrontation, and return to the city in search of answers and aid.

Millennium City provides plenty of locations to play out the next chapters in the adventure as well as supporting NPC's fair and foul. Dr. Silverback is an obvious choice and Signal Ghost provides a good inside Viper agent who would be able to find common cause with the heroes at the height of the plague.

So what about all those PD's and ED's and Combat Skill levels and ???d6 damage dice used to resolve action in Hero Game System?

Just jettison them all.

Your Unbelievably Simple Role Playing System mechanics doesn't need them. Our character with the power of time travel was taken as an Action specialism. The +2 given his action rolls will suffice for his bonuses to attack and dodge. The time traveling agent would logically have some advanced armor characteristics to cushion physical and energy attacks. Any disadvantages and power limitations which would come into play will rely on the shared story created by the PC's and GM. Viper agents have blasters. Good, better avoid getting shot because blasters leave big holes in soft human flesh. If you chose to play a "Brick" type superhero with incredible physical toughness then those same blasters won't hurt so much.

My initial character choices are what I would consider enhanced normals. While some abilities are enhanced in extremely powerful ways (traveling through time in a controlled manner), they still can be harmed by normal physical means. If your genre book is a good one you can pluck all the mood and meta-genre information you need for creative guidelines for your campaign and the characters your players chose to play. Relying on my Champions genre sourcebook from my dusty shelves I find the Drama Campaign has many useful bits I would mention with my players while crafting the PC's back story's. The implications of time paradoxes, and the distortions possible with existing relations, the judgement of the Time Corps, etc...


Good character concept generated with the input of the GM and the other players at the beginning of play will allow you to use USR to game any genre effectively. For superhero role playing I just need to wring out all the essential elements of my existing sourcebooks and leave the number crunching aside.

As I mentioned earlier, I would read the Fiasco rulebook for inspiration on how to distill story lines down to their essential elements regardless of system. It will go a long way in maximizing your role playing pleasure with USRPS and other game mechanics which trend towards lite.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

USRPS Mash Up cont.

I am using Scott Malthouse's Unbelievably Simple Role Playing System to create PC's for superhero role playing, and now wish to begin creation of the second player character, a Time "Agent" who now is stuck in the campaign's time period.

Her equipment has been damaged by unanticipated temporal interference and has effectively cut her off from returning to her space/time origin. This interference is manifest in some action by the first PC and his use of untried time traveling abilities.

A trouble shooter of cosmic conflict, our time agent has access to advanced equipment and training. Until now. Being stranded in the past she has lost the ability to replace damaged or lost equipment. A highly skilled human, she may have a list of "specialisms" as such;

Detective Work +2, Wit
Ranged Weapons +2, Action
Combat Driver +2, Action

I could have chosen to give her some electrical or technical specialism as fitting to a future tech setting, but then why go through the trouble of wrecking her transport equipment?

The importance of a "hooky" character role to play for the PC is important with the USRPS. The lack of a lengthy rule set (the core is a mere seven pages of text) will require increased table talk for all involved. Players as well as GM's.

If someone wants to play the stranded time agent, the background story should give enough information of their nature to help players chose a character they would enjoy playing in the campaign setting. If players wish to create their own PC, the pre generated characters provide good examples of great archetypes to play.

Her specialisms make her a clear action oriented  superhero. With the powerful tools available from the unimaginable future she can more than take care of herself. I break her attributes down this way;

d8 Action
d10 Wit
d6 Ego
Rolled 9 for Hits

That's it for the bones of the character. The rest is to be fleshed out in descriptive terms with the GM. Good character concept questions worth discussing would be what type of equipment does she find herself with, why was she being sent back in time for to begin with, what was the nature the temporal disturbance and its relationship to our first character?

None of these character concept questions need a lot of detail. I like to look to Fiasco from Bully Pulpit Games and the game's set up rules for guidance. Their thoughts on how a good background story for a player character is done is essential reading for a game like USRPS.

Gone are the piles of stats, attributes, powers, endurance points, stun points, speed points... a Champions character creation process could take two hours, or more!

Next we will take a look at these two quick superheroes and how they interact with the Champions Universe and plot an adventure with some of Champions own sourcebooks.