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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
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
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

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.