N1. Reptile Cult. Session two


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Eight skeletons, with the door opening inwards would allow only one at a time to step through…

We managed to meet again after a long pause to continue the D&D5e play of the classic module N1, The Cult of the Reptile God.

We picked up the action exactly where it left off, with the elfish boys out on the paths in the middle of the night on the way to investigate the suspicious temple. Suspicion was the order of the day as Casius (thief) detected that they were being followed. No one else did and he slid away from the party to investigate. This aroused absolutely no surprise from anyone as he commonly sneaked off for no adequately explained reasons at the best of times.

This time his suspicions turned out to be true and they learned that they were being followed by two very skilled operators. The boys went to ground and waited, but so did their opponents. Two hours went past and Arius (monk) was furious that their watchers were behaving irrationally by not moving… unless they had superior vision and could see better. Casius circled back around and surprised of the watchers. After issuing a short warning he shot the startled figure who had leapt in fright and drawn his sword. At the same time a web spell enclosed the rest of the party from the other direction.

I described that in two short paragraphs, but it took an awful lot longer than that in realtime as the party played cat and mouse on the moonlit hillside below the temple. And so, in the interests of brevity…

The shadowy figures were also elves – and that was pretty ominous as elves are rare in this world. They had been in the village for a month taking notes. An uneasy truce was established and the party  continued to the temple. There they found a secret door, entered, explored the ground floor, found a sleeping priest and then ran away again. Back at Llewellan and Dorian’s place they learnt some more about the strange goings on about the village. L & D gave them a sleep potion that could be used as a knock out gas.

Back to the temple they went, arguing for a long time about the tactics they would use once they got there. Once inside they again found the sleeping priest, knocked her out and then revived her for interrogation. She seemed reluctant or unable to coherently reply, something that only added to Arius’ (whose anger tempts him to the dark side… mmmm) frustration after a long long series of infuriating frustrations. They bundled her back to Llewellyn and Dorian’s where those two reckoned they knew someone who could remove such a powerful charm.

And for the third time the elfish boys returned to the temple, full of clever tactical ideas, made it to the first floor, found some skeleton guards and then, after a developing a complex plan to defeat them, smashed them easily in an anticlimactic combat. Image attached.

What conclusion could be reached from these lengthy deliberations?

  • The temple is clearly something close to the heart of the mystery surrounding the village
  • According to Llewellyn and Dorian people are being charmed, not converted, mutated or replaced
  • Llewellyn and Dorian are part of some organisation, the nature of which they would not reveal, but that has something to do with the destiny of the pure-blood elves
  • This party really likes to chew the moral and tactical issues before taking action
  • The ancient coin that Ghath (bard) possessed was of particular interest to the two foreign investigators, as was the elfish boys’ encounter and defeat of a genuine demon
  • Storm was of particular interest to the mysterious pure-blood elf agents. He was a sea elf and a sorcerer – a very rare combination – but he maintained his usual reticence and they got nothing from him
  • Cassius managed to steal nothing at all
  • Octavius (paladin) agonised about the process for manufacturing evidence to justify the start of slaughter
  • 1st edition skeletons (I converted the originals rather than use the new stats) are a walk over. But that’s OK

Uncharted Worlds for Typhoon Maiden?




Aboard the Typhoon Maiden – no ordinary ship: a living city inside a gigantic cocoon

Having discovered Dungeon World (DW) I dug a little deeper to find what else had been created based on the Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) engine. There are several, of course, and a real bloat of playbooks for characters. This is to be expected for anything that is any good: people get excited.

Uncharted Worlds (UW) is the science fiction implementation that caught my eye. Similarly funded through Kickstarter, it seems to me to be complete, rational, and entirely usable. The play style encourages sandbox style development and a story-oriented event resolution system. Both DW and UW are story games, not tactical wargames, and so will not appeal to everyone. But they appeal to me.

The Typhoon Maiden (TyMa) story is one I’ve been developing for years and concerns the travels of a city in space. A trading ship of enormous size, with a population in the thousands. This ship travels a long path between worlds, probably on a regular route that may well take decades or even a century to complete. On these journeys the inhabitants of the city go about their normal business of cooking and building and falling in love and having run-ins with the law. When around a host planet they descend, trade, explore and cause mischief. By UW classification the ship is a Type 5 in terms of size, but my technology level is clearly different. My ship, though several kilometres long, has a listed population of around 18,000 and is steered/run/guided by an integrated AI, or Mind. People aboard the Typhoon Maiden occupy a place somewhere between passengers, parasites, and pets. They are not ‘in control’ of the ship. It just so happens the Mind has chosen this migratory life and invited an ecosystem of short-lived humans and other animals to come for the journey.

The inspiration for Typhoon Maiden comes from Metamorphosis Alpha and all the great lost world ship stories of the 50’s and 60’s, and also from Rogue Trader in a more general sense, and Iain Banks Culture novels in a very specific sense. With the tools available in UW, and the growing enthusiasm for the PbtA engine around me, I hope to get a video-conference game going set on the Maiden.

A great and clever tool in UW is the Factions. In the rules these are presented as large galactic structures and here I suspect the typical interpretation will be the ‘Federation,’ or ‘Empire,’ or ‘Blue Sun Corporation.’ Which is all fair and good, however when I read the section I was put more in mind of the Secret Societies of Paranoia, and how these factions could place pulls on a character leading him or her into difficult moral territory. What follows now are the factions aboard the Typhoon Maiden. These are not formal organisations with badges and oaths as much as they are political power blocks that can act openly, but more often in the shadows. They provide some of the dynamic tension aboard the ship.

tyma-imageThere are five main factions that exist in a dynamic tension aboard the Typhoon Maiden. They are the Merchants, the Conventionals, Command, the Landlords and the Adaptives.

The Merchants are concerned solely with trade and act to increase their access to markets, protection of their goods and profits, and to influence ship policy towards those goals. Their base of power are the vast numbers of transport ships that service the TyMa and ferry goods to and from planetary surfaces. They provide the prosperity that is at the core of why the TyMa is in space at all (as far as people are concerned – who knows what motivates the Mind that is at the core of the ship?). Merchants employ private guards to protect their persons, vessels and property. The Merchants as a faction are not ideologically opposed to any other faction, but strongly oppose any action that might impact their ability to make deals both aboard ship and dirtside.

Might: Paid security

Reach: Primarily the docks and warehouse districts. Merchants are strongly associated with the Seneschal department

Structure: A formal Merchant’s Council meets, but anyone that engages in trade is by default affected

Ideology: Profit

The Conventionals place their concern in ‘public health’ and stability. They represent the efforts to prevent destabilising foreign or radical trends. The Conventionals have the most ‘soft’ power and the least ‘hard’. They appeal to the shared culture and destiny of the city and seek to keep things as they are. Their influence is most keenly felt and most obvious in their control of public events in the city: festivals, ceremonies, sporting events, speaking events, fairs and exhibitions. Their specific enemies are the Adaptives.

Might: Social shaming hand in hand with gossip. Strong interaction with the Religious Police (RePo), who are concerned with criminal insanities

Reach: Public events and any other social activity

Structure: Loose structure of concerned citizens groups, clubs and associations

Ideology: Social stability

Command is typically associated with the Voidboss department but this is not necessarily so. Command is concerned with the technical and mechanical fitness of the city. It includes in its membership command staff but also technicians and support personnel such as plumbers and electricians. The Command faction finds itself in sometime alliance with any or all of the other factions, as long as those groups don’t threaten to break anything in the city. They violently oppose actions that do affect the city’s functioning.

Might: Control of the official city security force, the Excubitors, and the Security Police (SePo)

Reach: Utilities and infrastructure, engineering

Structure: At its core there is a formal command and rank structure

Ideology: Don’t break the city!

The Landlords are property owners, renting out living space, commercial and manufacturing facilities, storage and transportation services. Landlords typically belong to established family structures with long lineages of accumulation of money and hence power. They are concerned only with maintaining their positions of stability and privilege, seeing themselves as aristocratic cornerstones of the City’s civilisation. The natural allies of the Landlords are the Conventionals.

Might: Land ownership and therefore power through rent. Criminal Police (KriPo), concerned with investigating and punishing everyday crime

Reach: Landlords’ powers reach to every part of the Typhoon Maiden. These ‘districts’ are guided, exploited and competed for amongst the landlord families

Structure: Family hierarchies

Ideology: The natural social order is a pyramid, with the landlords at the top

Adaptives embrace the new and exciting possibilities opened up by exposure to foreign cultures. As the city pulls into contact with the a new world, Adaptives go to work exploring, cataloguing and investigating with the intention of finding all that is good that could be imported and applied at home. They are usually in violent opposition to the Conventionals who hold all such importations as destructive and undesirable. Officially, Adaptives are just radicals and trouble makers. To the members of this faction they are the true patriots attempting to improve life for everyone and stave off stagnation and extinction.

Might: The corrosive power of memes and incremental change among the common people

Reach: Strongest in casual meeting situations where people can share ideas: bars, restaurants, public events

Structure: The few formal mouthpieces of change and adaptation are merely a front for the real work which is unstructured and largely word of mouth

Ideology: Change is good

Dungeon World for Parsantium?


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dungeon world smallOur group got together, minus one (or two if you count Alan who can only very rarely join), and this usually means that the  Parsantium  campaign usually takes a back seat for boardgames.

This time we asked Simon to take up the role of DM to play a single episode RPG using the Dungeon World rules.

Dungeon World (DW) claims to provide original D&D feel with next to none of the D&D mechanics. At first this seemed a ridiculous claim until I compared my experiences with what I remember from playing 1st ed AD&D so long ago in my teenage years. Back then, I seem to recall, the rules were more like pointers or aides memoire rather than a concrete set of instructions. We just talked shit and if we needed to roll a few dice every now and then we did. Today I look at D&D5e and despite its massive simplifications it’s still a mechanistic process laden with detail.

So what was the special element that DW brought to the table? Thinking about what your character was doing rather than simply manipulating a set of attributes in a mix-n-match boardgame, basically.

Now you could do this naturally, of course, and if you have been moving towards story-gaming this is the way you do it. But it does seem to me that we, as the game buying public, have been spoilt into accepting finished, completed, wrapped up products. It’s an exercise of selecting just-the-right shaped game tool and applying it. Complete with art and seamless mechanics and all the other shit that we used to dream about as kids. And the effect is that it dumbs you down to expect and be only able to respond in a limited, approved fashion. DW kills that.

I could wax lyrical on this topic – and have been until I deleted it. But you either understand what I mean or you don’t. Back in the 80’s we used to talk about the difference between Role players and Roll players. Either this means something to you and you happily fit in one camp or the other, or it means nothing, in which case I’m not sure how to reach you.

In any case, what are the key mechanics of DW that facilitates talking about doing stuff in your imagination as opposed to running a fantasy skirmish wargame? (Both are OK, I hasten to add: they are just very different.)

Dungeon World changes the task resolution roll from a simple Yes/No result to a Yes/Yes But/No (and sometime No And).

In D&D (and any other mainstream RPG) you roll a die (or dice), add or subtract factors, and if you roll better than a target you succeed, if worse you fail. ‘His armor class is 16. You need to roll 16 or better to hit him.’ and so on. Hit or miss. No story to speak of.

In DW you roll and if your results indicate you succeed as advertised (do damage, pick the lock, climb the wall, whatever), or you succeed BUT something else happens that you can choose (sword stuck, dislodge a stone and make a noise, etc), or you fail and the DM may inflict something on you. This simple change creates results that propel a story and do not just produce an exercise of rolling dice.

When you think back on a combat or an action in ordinary D&D you make up the story, ‘remembering’ to enliven the dull rolls with action. DW makes that happen as it happens. You don’t need to make up the story about what your roll might have meant. Your roll tells you.

Dungeon World is not the first game to try to do this. Mythic was a magnificent introduction to the world of telling stories rather than beating dice rolls. But DW bridges the gap between traditional pen and paper RPGs and genuine Story Games by constraining the elements into known parameters. Bards do Bard things and are typically bardish people. In this way it is reminiscent of Risus where that character class is just a set of cliches rather than a set of rules. This restriction may seem constricting if you think the purpose of the set of rules is to provide you with mechanical factors to min/max. But a short and broad set of guidelines is a lot more free than a very long list of concrete rules.

So what, you might ask? As a long time DM and only seldom player I can tell you that the pressure of being the entertainer for a group of people can be quite daunting. In traditional RPGs the DM has to know everything, be everywhere, have it all sorted out and know the answers. You can abrogate this responsibility by using prepared material, but the result is the same. Some people get to live in the world and your job is to make it happen for them. That’s a lot of work and responsibility. With this set you get to explore and discover the world with the players.

Anyway, what did I discover about Parsantium using Dungeon World?

  • Elves pretty much believe that only they have souls. Everyone else, the short lived creatures, are more or less biological robots
  • There are few than 20,000 elves left in the world
  • A civil war amongst the elves long ago was precipitated by a pact with a demon. The losers of this civil war were exiled, entombed, imprisoned magically
  • The surviving victors of the civil war, those who opposed the demon and its perverted elves, are weak, few and are more or less becoming extinct
  • The barriers holding the perverted imprisoned are becoming weaker. They call out to be free

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game solo play


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I recently picked up a copy of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Skulls & Shackles. The 18th and 19th century fantasy pirate genre (Pirates of the Caribbean), while still being worthy and all that, never really interested me as a gaming topic. 16th century golden-age piracy a little bit more. High fantasy pirates, as this is kind of geared to be, fits into my current Parsantium campaign with some simple modifications.

This blog article is in two parts: actual review of the game as a mechanical exercise, and the story that I managed to tell myself in the Parsantium context using these cards and mechanisms.

The game review

The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (PACG) system uses a sophisticated card draw mechanism that pits a ‘Character’ card (in the traditional RPG sense) that has characteristics, against a randomised set of opponent and circumstance cards.

Victory is achieved by encountering and defeating cards using the talents your character possesses. These talents include any innate skills your character may have, along with the usual array of fantasy elements of weapons and armour and spells and equipment and so on.

There are many different cards types and getting into the game at first is daunting. I watched several YouTube videos of game play before I got the general gist of things and then could make sense of the printed rules. Having said that the basic idea is simple: sort the cards into types, and there is a handy visual guide to advise you how to stack them in the pre-formed box. Your character has a preferred set of equipments (weapons, armour and so on) and you select these from those relevant decks. Once done you have a deck of 15 cards. This is your health, or hit points. Damage costs you cards. Using items that are lost costs you cards. Run out of cards and you’re dead.

Following the prescribed set up there are adventures, that have scenarios, that have locations. Each location has a similar set of cards that are randomly aded to make their deck. These include the major villains and their henchmen.

Each turn, you expose a ‘Blessings’ card. This is the timer – run out of those and the game ends and you’ve lost – but they also have effects that you can exploit. This is a subtle meta-game element that I like. Mechanically it is simple, but it carries a strong sub-conscious message that this is a fantasy world where inexplicable stuff happens and fate can have a meaningful effect on you.

Then you put your counter on a location card, indicating that you are exploring there, and turn over the top card of that location. It may be a monster, or loot to pinch, or some kind of impediment to progress (a ‘barrier’). You roll dice based on the particular challenge, adding and subtracting factors depending on the relevant skills you possess, and objects, and weapons and spells… and so on.

And repeat.

Until you find the main villain and defeat them, or die.

It is a procedural game. Set the clocks and crank the handle. Once you get over the learning curve the process is straightforward, but since every card is an exception it can appear more complex as you take into account the ‘if, then, but, plus, minus, unless’ that is a result of the many cards up and exposed and in your own hand.

Final verdict?

It’s no Reiner Knizia masterpiece of elegance and choice. It is a game of detail and complexity posing as depth. But that’s not a bad thing. It does deliver plenty of atmosphere if you are willing to slow down and read the cards and think about what’s going on and, dare I say it, make a story out of it.

Admittedly I have only played once and solo, so I cannot speak to the experience of having the preferred four players interacting. But from that solo perspective I got a lot of pleasure out of this on a rainy day-off-work by keeping a notepad and thinking about what each turn of the card would look like if this were a full social RPG. But I could easily imagine it becoming tedious if your objective were to turn cards and treat it as no more than a mathematical problem.

Price wise, it’s pretty reasonable as these things go now days. While not exactly comparable because the tactical miniatures element is missing, one can still say it compares favourably.

As a final measure of value I do believe that I will play this again – and there’s no higher praise than that – though I am now very much looking forward to this as it is well more in my core interest zone.

The story

[I removed all the firearm related cards from the decks]

Once upon a time there was an assassin called Naseeba Hamid (using the characteristics of the Rogue Wu Shen) who was in the employ of the Great Caliph of Aqhran. The Caliph had become concerned over the increase of pirate activity in the Corsair’s Sea. Trade to Loranto and Parsantium had been attacked, of course, but so had the routes to the wilds of Ferez and Qardib. Attacks had become more common. Something had to be done. The Caliph summoned his Chancellor and outlined the actions: an agent was to be sent to investigate what was at the heart of this increase.

Naseeba started the search at the Floating shipyard near the port of Ferez. Following a tense diplomatic encounter when one of the pirate ships pulled in for repairs she joined a treasure hunt that eventually confronted a swamp ghoul. The ghoul was too tough for her and, severely wounded, she followed a new clue to Lonely island, a dot of land in the gulf to the east of of Rezana (Lonely Island). There Naseeba wandered, avoiding an ambush and then finding magical weapons locked in stone that she could not shift, even when using the Onyx of Constitution.

After much searching she found Adaro Barbarian, a Sahuagin (the card said merfolk – could be any aquatic creature I decided) chieftain who seemed to be in charge of everything. Taking careful aim with her crossbow, and tipping the bolt with poison, she nailed him, but he survived and fled. Following him back to the Floating Shipyard she again attacked the swamp ghoul. The battle raged for many hours, with Nasseeba using every trick in her assassin’s book until at last the beast was dead.

But alas, in her weakened state she was no match for the recovered Adaro and he killed her before she had a chance to report back to the Caliph.

So what do we know?

  • There is an island off the coast of eastern Bathura that is the pirate’s base
  • That a major leader is a Sahuagin, implying a whole bunch of plot elements
  • That there is a haven for pirates off the port of Ferez
  • The Caliph does not know who or where the threat is coming from
  • The threat has not been removed

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The ‘game’ lasted 17 turns. One could slow down a lot more and flesh out an entire story this way.

Shadows of Brimstone play


IMG_0480.JPGOur monthly game session rolled around and Andrew was suffering from some alien virus or other and couldn’t make it. We decided that instead of continuing the N1 module we would boardgame.

We’d started a game of Shadows of Brimstone another time and I was keen to get back to it. Selecting at random I was an Indian Scout, for all that it mattered.

Rather than break out the plastic figures, we thought to try out the flats that I’d just bought from Arcknight. Here they are on the board, and I think they come up very well.

What to say about Shadows? It has excellent production values. Everything about it is a delight to behold. It has a steep learning curve at the beginning, but once you know how it works, play is very fast. In fact once we had the measure of it, it became pretty obvious that it was a fairly simple procedural game. So much so that I wondered exactly what choices the character has. As far as I can tell the choices are entirely tactical: where to move your character on the board, and when to use items. Otherwise, allowing for the randomisers, the game could play itself.

Is this a criticism? Not really. And I understand and appreciate why many people really like this game. It has a lot going for it. And perhaps if you had a group of natural story tellers that were enlivening the dice rolling with description it could be quite immersive, but for me the curtain behind which the wizard sat was a little too obvious.

The question has to be would I play again? Yes, with some reservations. Moving from ‘room’ to ‘room’ gets old after the second rotation. Because pretty much exactly the same thing happens every time. Sure there may be different monsters, but the available reactions are the same: roll dice; find thing; discover monsters; roll dice to kill or be killed. If this was the tactical resolution mechanism for a narrative role playing game, or a game that made more of the time outside of the mines/dungeons, then it could have a very sound place. I could easily see this as the basis for a much bigger story telling setting, with everyone just going to the tiles and counters for the battles.

Alternatively, you could treat this specifically as a regular tournament style of game where well versed players go on either timed or scored jaunts and built up a ‘campaign’ in that way.

In both cases this is where a lot of ‘mainstream’ role playing games have gone with tiles and counters and so on. And from that perspective Shadows fulfils that function admirably.

5e monster description for Parsantium – a newly identified Daeva


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succubus_by_mlappas-d4vpf7eDeceivers are charismatic and bold, possessing strong similarities with Succubi and Incubi. They are not overtly aggressive, shying away from direct combat. Instead they prefer to work their way into positions of trust within societies, where they then pervert individual people with promises of pleasures and other extreme sensations. In this way they are most successful with people who already have tendencies towards sadism, masochism and lust. Once under the influence of the Daeva, she then ‘plays’ with them: conducting ‘experiments’. If directly attacked she attempts to keep her foes at bay with magic, but then if cornered will strike out with claws and horns.

If ‘killed’ the Daeva returns to her home plane where she waits until summoned again. It is not known if there are one or many Daeva of this type. Historical examples have been identified by the names of Mashtrues, Khabeban, Dhokebaaz, Duzenbaz.

Gazember is the name of the particular Daeva identified as being the creature responsible for creating the orcs through perversion of the original elf stock, though only of those already susceptible to the lure of the dark.

Size/Type: Medium Fiend, Chaotic evil
Hit Dice: 7d8+35 (66 hp)
Speed: 30 ft. (6 squares)
Armor Class: 22 (+4 Dex, +8 natural)
Attack: Claw +12 melee (1d6+5)
Full Attack: 2 claws +12 melee (1d6+5) and horn gore +7 melee (1d6+2)
Special Attacks: Sneak attack +2d6, spell-like abilities, summon demon
Saves: Str +0, Dex +4, Con +4, Int +2, Wis +1, Cha +5
Abilities: Str 10, Dex 19, Con 18, Int 14, Wis 13, Cha 21
Skills: Climb +15, Disable Device +12, Disguise +13, Escape Artist +11, Hide +19, Listen +19, Move Silently +19, Open Lock +11, Search +20, Sleight of Hand +11, Survival +1 (+3 following tracks), Use Rope +1 (+3 with bindings)
Damage resistances Bludgeoning, piercing, slashing
Condition immunities Charmed, exhaustion, frightened
Senses Darkvision 60ft, Keen senses (elf trait)
Challenge Rating: 6 (1800 XP)

A Deceiver’s natural weapons, as well as any weapons it wields, are treated as chaotic-aligned and evil-aligned for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.

Mask of the Wild: a Deceiver may attempt to hide even when only partially obscured by foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, most, and other natural phenomenon. Deceivers will always attempt to escape through this method if they are personally threatened.

Sneak Attack (Ex): A Deceiver can make a sneak attack like a rogue, dealing an extra 2d6 points of damage whenever a foe is denied his or her Dexterity bonus, or when flanking.

Spell-Like Abilities: At will—darkness, dispel magic, shapechange. Caster level 7th.

Known spells, cast at 7th level: Polymorph, Fear, Charm (animal, monster & person)

Skills: Deceivers have a +8 racial bonus on Hide, Listen, Move Silently, and Search checks.

A true history of the Orcs of Parsantium


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Daeva 1Long ago a Daeva known as The Deceiver (Gazember, Matquara and many other names) came to the court of the Winter King and promised him pleasures and experiences beyond his imagination.

It is not known whether this event happened before or after the King’s estrangement from his wife, the Summer Queen. What is known is that the Queen distrusted Gazember and forbade her from speaking to the court. So instead the creature whispered in secret to those that would listen.

She built a following of elves that had already started on their path to the dark world and slowly, one by one, ensnared them.

By the time the King realised that his people were disappearing and banished Gazember, a sizeable stock of elves had been ensnared. In shadowy glades deep within the forest the Daeva conducted her foul experiments of cross breeding and magical mutation.

A short crusade followed, and the King led his army against the Daeva and her hellish creations. She fled, along with the few surviving and most resilient of her monsters, and took up residence in the dark spaces beneath the Forgesmoke Mountains.

It was roughly at this time that the elf King and Queen became estranged, but there were many causes behind that acrimonious split than just this one event. The King’s infidelities had become too frequent to ignore.

Many centuries passed and it was assumed that the Daeva had crawled away and died along with her beasts. But evil rumours became associated with those mountains. Sturdy dwarves told of creatures more cunning and terrible than any goblinoid, and expanded their caverns with caution. Even the stolid bugbears, single-minded hobgoblins and their pets, the goblins, shuddered in fear at what was breeding deep at the root of the mountains.

The vast forest to the north of the mountains changed as well, as if a toxin was spreading through the soil or air. It took on a new name of Gloomtangle and became the home of giant spiders, poisoned rivers, malevolent trees, and elves of a very unpleasant sort.

Then, in 1122, after a century of intermittent skirmishes with an unknown type of creature, The Orcs vomited out from the western spur of the mountain and surged down the Bathuran peninsula. Orcs: tortured and mutated elves, so twisted with pain and hate that they were ferocious, relentless, almost unstoppable. Rezana fell and with it the entire Western Empire collapsed. Loranto only survived because of its position upon the water: its navy keeping the horde at bay.

For 200 years the Orcs consolidated their position on the Bathuran peninsula, and spread throughout the Forgesmoke Mountains. This created a refugee crisis of not just humans and dwarfs. In 1443 Kalgroth Ironheart led an army of bugbears, hobgoblins and goblins out of the mountains along the Via Bathura to sack Parsantium. It seems likely that they had been displaced by the expanding Orcs. The goblinoids were defeated, but not before they had despoiled the area between the eastern Corsairs’ Sea and the Istra River.

Now, in 1545, the goblinoids pose only a minor threat as the few refugee tribes maraud on the edges of the mountains from which they were dispossessed, the forests were they dare not go, and the resurgent human lands to south and north. Instead the threat to Parsantium from the west comes from the growing presence of the Orcs. And questions have been asked, in private at least, what had the elves to do with this whole catastrophe? And can they be trusted now?

N1, Reptile Cult, session one


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A quick update of the first session of the classic 1st Ed, AD&D module N1. Against the Cult of the Reptile God. We played using 5E rules, for what that is worth, set in the beautiful campaign setting of Parsantium. The players were 2nd level: Paladin, Monk, Sorcerer and Rogue. We also tried to video conference in Alan with his newly created Bard, but that presented some significant challenges. We will try again next time with some different technical experiments – I’ll write these up separately when we’ve cracked the problems.

danube village

After the lads had cleaned up the mess of the Daeva’s attempt to recover her physical form, they stooged around town for a month or two. The big city, Parsantium, capitol of the world, the Queen of Cities, offered them plenty of distractions to keep them busy.

One day, Lieutenant Saurish of the Tribunal approached them with a job. A citizen had been receiving disturbing letters from his sister up in a border town. There was nothing immediately actionable in the letters but they were suspicious. The party was invited to investigate; minimal expenses paid. Last minute shopping equipped the thief with a hand crossbow, much to the amusement of the rest: G75 ($1500) for that? Yeah, but it’s really cool…

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 6.34.35 PMOrlane (we agreed that it probably had a better Greek sounding name but I hadn’t bothered to translate the module very well) was up near the delta of the Istra (Danube) and was a reasonably old colony that had been ravaged by the hobgoblin invasion 100 years ago and was now recovering. New blood had flowed in, including the sister of the complainant. On questioning, the brother could tell nothing more. He was a simple monk/scholar who had turned to the authorities for help.

The names of cults and religions in the letters were researched and turned up some interesting clues. The cult of Manassangra was mentioned, as was the more benign cult of Ushas.

It was September, and the heroes decided to take one of the last galleys of the season that was going to Karjolat, and paid to have it drop them off at the mouth of the Istra. Attempts to find something to smuggle didn’t come to much as they realised they were not actually going to Karjolat but instead some back water village. None the less, they did conclude for future reference that they could possible make some money trading tea, medicine and spices to that far northern city. The trip was only a couple of days because the winds were strong.

The Istra delta was huge and boggy with many outlets to the sea and islands. It was a perfect haven for pirates, they saw, and could well be a fantastic place for a city to take advantage of the trade along the river. But now the villages were mean and broken down: depopulated after the hobgoblin hordes had passed through. The heroes collected what rumours they could (bugger all) and moved up stream.

At Orlane itself the heroes  methodically walked the circuit around the lake and interacted with many of the local population. This gave them a good feel for the paranoid nature of many of the residents, and for the almost perverse friendliness of others. Finally they settled into the Slumbering Serpent (menacing music), and then sneaked out of the window in the dead of night to investigate the temple. And at that point we quit for the night.

Highlights of the session:

  • Rogue tries to figure out how to rob a weapons shop, instead concluding that maybe buying might be safer, only to have buyer’s remorse once he’d shelled out the hard cash. He planned to rob the place and recover the cost but this came to nothing (but it was worth a laugh)
  • Bard suggests negotiating a trade/smuggling deal to bring in banned goods from Karjolat to Parsantium, conscious that they weren’t going to Karjolat and that this would therefore put them on someone’s death list. It didn’t happen, but it was an impressive commercial scheme
  • Sorcerer, notorious drinker, swears off wine, confounding the rest of the party. Deep suspicions form about whether he has been possessed
  • Paladin, noted authority on all things, declares that in Karjolat they will not be interested in buying opium, instead that they might well be interested in invading Parsantine territory to stamp it out
  • Monk reveals more about his tragic upbringing and strong Tiangao origins. This again raises the central mystery of the party and it’s place in the developing story: how come so many fae creatures have come together at this time?
  • At the village, rogue attempted to sneak through someone’s yard, only to discover that there was no opportunity to hide and nearly got plugged for his trouble. Later redeeming himself he eluded the tailing farmer’s son. Later again he climbed on the roof of the Golden Grain taverna, but then in a final indignity he had a bad set of rolls and was ‘spotted’ by guard geese and they honked like mad
  • In the Slumbering Serpent, paladin was gently informed that the belt buckle he had been using as an excuse to meet blacksmith/silversmith types – because that was the link in the original call to action – was actually a very tawdry piece and maybe he should just get a new one
  • And finally, the likely lads were exposed to the casual racism of this setting. They were nice boys, but well, they were elves, you know? Now I’m not racial, but they’re sneaky aren’t they?, present company excepted, of course. Always sneaking about…

Dark Daeva playtest for Parsantium


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whisperscoverv1bI had the opportunity to DM a playtest of Richard Green’s Whispers of the Dark Daeva for his magnificent setting, Parsantium. The version we had was for D&D 5e. There is another version for Pathfinder. This cannot be a full review as the adventure is still in pre-production, but what I can give is my impressions of the work so far.

Parsantium is a fantasy setting with usual suspects of high magic and expected fantasy races. Where Parsantium is significantly different from the usual high-fantasy fare is in its cultural setting. It is based on a fictionalised Constantinople of roughly 900 to 1,000AD. Access to other expected cultures such as Indian and Chinese are present, and a fictionalised monotheistic culture to the south is a Caliphate and is clearly designed to draw in Arabian Nights sensibilities. The Parsantium setting is a well-realised world, primarily focussed on the city itself at this time. There is a tantalising back story reaching some 2,000 years with clues enough to build some spectacular story-arcs. The clues are already there. Parsantium is clearly a labour of love, and it shows – in a good way.

Whispers of the Dark Daeva is the first official adventure written by Richard and its sets up beginning players and GMs with several cues to get into the setting. In brief, the story calls for the adventurers to be drawn into an investigation. This can be for a private citizen or it could be for the authorities. This latter was the way our game developed. There have been murders… and someone is responsible. There are thrilling chases, brushes with the law, the ubiquitous dungeon crawl, and a boss encounter that if you’ve been playing it right, is very difficult for more reasons than just hit points.

The playtest version is 55 pages long with only supporting illustrations (maps) not finished art. The layout is clear with sections clearly and usefully titled. At the beginning there is a scenario introduction and an introduction to the overall setting. This is useful as it sets the scene for players in what is probably their first contact with the setting. The introductions set the scene for further adventures and raise questions for inquisitive players. This is all done clearly and succinctly.

Stats for monsters and NPC are nicely set out with the relevant information available in a way that is easy to consume. Layers of clues and a progression from discovery to discovery reads well. Tension builds well and on several occasions our group of characters did not expect to live. The conclusion was tense and satisfying.

Whispers of the Dark Daeva will suit players and DMs that are looking for a little more cerebral kind of play. The plot is not difficult, and there is plenty of opportunity for sword play. Magic users and thieves will not be left out either. But the setting itself means that a party that expects an anarchic world where they can turn up and loot and murder will find themselves in a lot of trouble. Parsantium is a civilised city, with a functioning bureaucracy and a City Watch who’s job does not extend to being cannon fodder. Involving themselves in this hunt for the cause of the mysterious deaths means dealing with functionaries in conversational ways.

Even without this being a finished product, and with some development still to go, I was more than satisfied with exposing this to the players. And they enjoyed both the general setting and this scenario is particular to want to immerse themselves more. That’s a good recommendation.

Look out for it is my advice, and buy it when you can.

Flight profile around the gates


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skewFlipAgain, let me repeat, this is not a story based on canon law for Fading Suns, Dune, WH40k, Traveller or any other published setting. It is my development that pinches ideas from these sources.

Way out past the edge of solar systems can be found star gates. These are massive rings, some thousands of kilometres in circumference that humans have now discovered and are using, built by an ancient and extinct alien species. These gates connect to one another, giving near instantaneous travel between these places. To use this means of transportation a ship must be equipped with a ‘warp’ drive, and have advanced think-machines that can process the massive amounts of data necessary and be able to interpret the so-called gate-keys that code for the transit. Gate-keys are jealously guarded by the Charioteers’ Guild, a professional engineering and piloting organisation that has the monopoly on reproduction and possession of the keys. Reproduction is all that humans have managed so far – coding new keys has not yet been reverse engineered from the ancient alien examples.

And so…

Near each gate the Charioteers’ Guild maintains a permanently crewed station. This is port control. When a ship arrives at the gate it calls port control and asks for transit permission. Control will have had plenty of lead time as the ship would have been seen coming and communications would have been long ago established. The exiting ship will be fitted into the schedule and then will wait the hours or days until it is time to go. When ready, a Pilot from the guild comes aboard carrying the relevant key and any other special equipment or private messages. The ship is then pushed towards the gate by the port authority tugs, and then passes through, out of the universe for a short period of time and then, if all has gone well, back into the universe many light years away.

When the ship arrives in the new system, the new port control makes contact, flash-sends any important data, and one of the escorting tugs that has recorded the flight data is ejected to snap back through the gate to report successful transfer. This usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes. If no confirmation arrives back at the exit system after half an hour, emergency procedures begin, locking down the gate and sending investigative drones, then crewed emergency vessels.

Assuming that everything has gone well, and gate accidents are rare but not impossible, the Pilot exits the ship to the port control station, and the ship is free to head in-system. Using local tug boats and thrusters, the ship is manoeuvred away from the gate. This can take hours to days to ensure that when the big engines come on they do not cause any damage. When ready, and courses have been plotted, the ship starts up its fusion-torches and accelerates away. At the half way point to the target planet the torches are extinguished, the ship turns around, and then reignites the engines to decelerate. This accelerate, rotate, decelerate routine can take anything up to six months. The plumes of the deceleration are visible to the target system for this period, filling the skies like comets. There is little to no chance of ‘sneaking up’ on a planet.

For big ships like the Typhoon Maiden (TyMa), a floating trading city, throughout this period communications have been going on with the inhabited places in the new solar system. Merchants will be researching and then reaching out to potential markets in order to buy and sell goods. By the time the ship comes to rest over a planet the wheels of commerce are already spinning and the process of logistics takes over: getting the shuttles to the surface with goods to sell and getting the bought goods back to the ship and stored – all as quickly as possible and certainly ahead of competitors. Anyone still wondering what they are going to do by the time they get into orbit have already missed all the lucrative deals.

The TyMa typically stays in orbit around the main inhabited planet for one to two years, allowing trade not only between the man planet but with any other inhabited bodies. It is rare that a big ship like the TyMa would shuttle around a solar system from planet to planet – instead it makes the small ships come to it. This allows for a lot of trade to be conducted, and for a ship that would probably have a regular circuit of worlds (though possibly taking decades to complete) this allows a certain amount of future planning to occur. “That was a great batch of whisky. When I’m back in ten years I’ll have some of the batch you’re putting down now,” for example.

Also while in orbit there will be movement of people. Some people will want to move off the ship and settle down on a planet. Others will decide they want a taste of travel and will come aboard. Along with the legal and documented transfers there will be the normal deserters from the ship, and stowaways to the ship. Given the size of the TyMa, with its official capacity of 18,000, keeping track of even the legal citizens is hard. This movement of people, especially since the ship is civilian and therefore people are technically free to do anything they want, means that knowledge of occupation is only approximate.

Once all transfers are complete, the ship is manoeuvred out of orbit and transits to the gate. It takes almost the exact same time to get back to the gate as it took to come from the gate, allowing for the differences in orbits that will have occurred in between. But importantly, there are no shortcuts.