Archive for March 2014

Dungeon World: Sir Augustine's Second Stand

  • Augustine (human paladin)
  • Jaya (human bard)
  • Mouse (halfling gnome thief)

Jaya was accustomed to drawing a crowd at the Tipsy Gnome, what with her being a rare form of entertainment in the backwater village of Pinestraw.

Another, more common form was getting drunk. Pinestraw was a small village, and it was rare that anyone got violently drunk. At least in public. She had just finished a song about how a warrior named Augustine had valiantly defended the village of Pinestraw from a gang of bandits. The men that had approached her looked objectionable, and had objected to her portrayal of the bandits which, when combined with their demands for her flute, made it easy to guess their particular field of expertise.

To their surprise she drew a rapier and sliced one of them across the arm. She had hoped that they were not used to resistance, and combined with a tavern full of townsfolk would back down, but their expressions of shock quickly turned to rage, and they drew daggers.

A man stood up. He was clad in a suit of polished scale armor, and a halberd was resting against his table. He met each of their eyes in turn before simply stating that he had quite enjoyed her performance. The men exchanged uncertain looks: they only just outnumbered the pair, but one was considerably better equipped and looked more than capable. The one Jaya had wounded spat at her feet, then craned his head towards the door. As they left, grumbling threats and curses under their breath, the patrons cheered and shouted for an encore, which Jaya was only too happy to oblige.

Meanwhile Mouse was ferreting around the church. He had it on good authority, or at least good enough to spur him into action, that there was a gem-encrusted cross made of solid gold buried somewhere in the church. A growing pile of flagstones attested to his fruitless endeavor, but since everyone was at the Tipsy Gnome for a night of drink and song he figured he had plenty of time to try and find it.

Until he heard someone was approaching, which he only heard thanks to the unmistakable clank of armor. Armor was a rare commodity in these parts, specifically something that only Augustine owned, meaning that Augustine had probably left the party early, meaning Mouse would have to slink out and make up a story about robbers in Augustine asked about all the missing flagstones.

"This is the place" said a gruff voice from just outside the front door.

That...was not Augustine. Fortunately Mouse had locked the door. Unfortunately whoever was out there had started to go to work on the lock.

Well, maybe the story would not need much "concocting" after all. Okay, time for plan B. He went to a window that he had tampered with before, so that it could be easily opened at his leisure: he would just slip out and go get Augustine. Not too quickly, of course: they were probably here to find the cross themselves, and if he gave them a headstart it would increase that odds that he would know where it was, so he could come back later.

Someone was trying to open the window.

Okay, time for plan C. He darted back into the chapel, grabbed a brazier, and lobbed it through a stained glass window. Noisy, but efficient. He managed to leap through just as the door was opening, and as he fled heard someone give an order to torch the place.

Jaya was in the middle of another song when Mouse burst through the door. His clothing had been intentionally torn in a few choice places, all the better to support his story that he had been attacked while investigating some questionable men snooping about the church. He told Augustine that he tried to hold them off, but there were too many and they were going to burn it, probably to find the golden cross that certainly existed beneath the foundation.

Mouse had hoped that Augustine would confirm the rumor, but he just thanked him, asked Mouse to join him, snagged his halberd, and bolted out the door, followed by Jaya. Mouse followed with a sigh: the things he did for gem-encrusted gold crosses.

As they headed for the church, Mouse slipped away into the woods surrounding it, as he was much more useful when he could get the drop on someone. Plus, he was hoping he could pick off stragglers without having to share any loot.

There were four bandits waiting for them at the entrance. Three were armed with clubs, while the fourth had a bow. As Augustine charged them he loosed a few arrows, but they were harmlessly deflected by his armor. Jaya used her magic to bolster Augustine's attacks, which combined with the reach from his halberd made it easy to cut them down while keeping them at bay.

Mouse could hear someone barking orders from inside the church. He peered through the window he had broken earlier, and saw their leader, who he recognized as Killian the Red thanks to the red armor. They were occupied by the sounds of combat coming from the front, and he had not only sent out most of his men, but his back was turned, too.

Mouse took out a throwing knife, coated it with some goldenroot, and gave it a toss. It cut Killian across the arm, and he hissed in pained and turned around to find the knife's source. Since goldenroot only worked on the first person seen, Mouse made every effort to ensure that he could be seen. Mouse hopped into the church, introducing himself and warning Killian about his traitorous men.

The two bandits fled out the front door, only to be cut down by Augustine and Jaya. While Killian was understandably occupied, Mouse stabbed him in the back. Heavily wounded, he tried to flee, but did not even make it out the window before Mouse finished him off with a well-placed throwing knife.

With the bandits defeated they were able to turn their attention to the burning church. Unfortunately it had already spread too far, and there was nothing they could do to stop it. Augustine wept as his home went up in flames, while Mouse wept at the fact that he might not be able to find the cross.

Behind the Scenes
Holy shit this session was a blast: Dan did an excellent job, even when you do not factor in an entirely new group and no prep.

It was Ben's first time, and I think he really dug the amount of player input the game demands. I firmly believe that roleplaying games greatly benefit when the players are required to help build the world and story, as it invests them in more than just their own character. It is a practice that I have taken into my Dungeons & Dragons games, and if I ever make my own clone it is going to be a cornerstone of a new campaign.

Yeah, Melissa recycled the name for the Tipsy Gnome from our Dresden Files game.

I was initially going to go with a halfling fighter, which was my first Dungeon World character and oddly functional despite the game drawing a lot of inspiration from previous editions (namely 2nd, what with the whole paladins-can-only-be-human  bit). However, Ben wanted to make a paladin, and I figured I could break out of my comfort zone and make something more iconic like a halfling thief.

Then someone mentioned Celtic influences, at which point I changed my race to gnome, which better fits my playstyle of doing impulsive things when the group takes a long time trying to, for example, figure out which door to open. I was fine with keeping the halfling move, though in hindsight I would have pitched this: When you try to hide in natural terrain, take +1 forward. Simple and flavorful.

One of Mouse's bonds with Augustine was that "Augustine always has his back". Since Mouse is not the kind of person that Augustine would likely associate with and I took goldenroot poison, I decided that at some point in the past Mouse had poisoned him.
March 25, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Dropping the Shop

So in other, more concise words, gear "packages" derived from your background and class are the norm, while buying with a budget is optional.

Not that I see anything particularly wrong with this—3rd and 4th Edition both had packages, after all—but does purchasing gear really take that long? I guess it might take awhile for new players, but after a few characters if you actually paid attention you should have a good idea of what stuff you need and tend to use.

Plus, it is not like every game session starts with character generation, but even if it does then you should have no problem memorizing most of it.

I guess I see no reason for the flip: in 4th Edition if I want to get the game going quickly, I could just have the players pick the packages. They would still need to actually read the book to figure out what everything does, and since character generation is not the normal pre-game activity it does not sound like it is going to save a meaningful amount of time. But you know me: it took them this long to arrive at this conclusion, it is funny how the default removes choices, doing basically what was done before, blah blah blah.

In 3rd Edition this standard would have been more beneficial, as it had a lengthy equipment list that included lots of useless—or at best highly situational—stuff like sticks of chalk (I eagerly await comments on how you use chalk sticks all the time, and they are pivotal to success), a sewing needle (but strangely no thread), a bell, fishhook, and an iron pot, but 4th Edition's was actually pretty concise: it took up less than half a page, had a pre-bundled adventurer's kit, and stuck to tools that adventurers would likely need to bother with.

Even when Mordenkainen's Magical Emporium introduced more adventuring gear, like ball bearings and iron shavings, it still provided a mechanical punch, and most of it was thematically bundled.

As nice as 4th Edition is, I personally prefer how Dungeon World handles adventuring gear: your pack has x "uses" (five is the default, but presumably you could have more bags of gear), and each time you pull something out of your bag that reasonably could have been in it, you spend a use. That is it. No having to note many pitons, coils of rope, lamp oil, etc are stored inside; you just declare you are pulling something out, and mark off a use. It is basically a quantum sack that makes it very easy to deal with all the crap you are lugging around without getting bogged down in all the minutiae.

Now if they really wanted to streamline character generation while still allowing at least descriptive flexibility, they could take a page from Gamma World, where the efficacy of weapons and armor is based on a category (light, heavy, one-handed, two-handed), 13th Age, where the damage and AC bonus is based on a combination of class and type (ie, fighters deal more damage and benefit more from heavy armor than, say, wizards do), or Dungeon World, where damage is based on class and there are only three types of armor.

Oddly in their quest for making character generation as fast as possible, they are introducing a table of "random, weird trinkets" for you to roll on. It reminds me of Numenera's oddities, just maybe less...incohesive? If you never played Numenera, oddities are basically random trinkets that you can find that do not inherently convey any mechanical benefits. Though you might find a creative use for some of it, or even be able to trade/sell them later on, a lot of them are just kind of...there, like the crystal that shatters and repairs itself: how much mileage are you really going to get out of that?

Personally my group never cared about oddities. In most cases if the characters found one, I described it, and then they either did not bother to pick it up, or did and promptly forgot about it because they were busy finding objects that actually did something. A mirrored cube or goggles that tint everything green? Why the hell would I care about any of that when I have a laser or a device that can create force fields? You might find a use for a pen that writes in invisible ink, which only appears at a low temperature, but I challenge you to find a meaningful use for a two-headed cat fetus in a jar (or, to cite an example from the article, a candle that cannot be lit).

The last part, about setup times, is a bit confusing. I agree that a board game with a fast setup time is more likely to be played: I find myself wanting to get my ass handed to me in Mansions of Madness, but it can take awhile prepping the board and seeding cards. What I do not get is the comparison. Well, okay, I get why he makes the comparison: he is trying to justify why they stripped out almost all of the meaningful decisions, it just does not make sense because board games and role-playing games are two different things, and people expect different things from them.

Maybe my perception is skewed from playing games like Rifts, Shadowrun, and Mage: The Ascension, but Dungeons & Dragons has never really had "long, intricate, character creation sessions", unless 10-20 minutes is considered long and intricate, or I try to do some collaborative world/party-building with the players. As I have said plenty of times before it is nice and all that they are trying to create a version of Dungeons & Dragons that is easy to pick up and play, but there are ways to do it while still allowing the players to make decisions.

For example they could have taken a page from their somewhat different approach to your starting gear by giving each class one or more builds, which they also did in both 3rd and 4th Edition: groups who want to start playing quickly can pick one, write everything down, and start playing. Over time they can read the books and inject more customization, like you could in 4th Edition. Or they could just build characters before the game starts. In other words the game could have very easily supported fast character generation and actual customization.

Dungeon World: Mummy Playtest, Part 2

  • Ruzzah (lizardfolk bog mummy)

Far away, someone was wading through the grass. It would take a few steps, stop, crouch, then stand and move a few more steps before again stopping. Her best guess was that, whatever it was, it was looking for something in the grass.

Maybe it was a local. A local that could give her some answers. Or attack her. Yeah, given her luck so far she banked on the latter, but hey: she had a club studded with razor-sharp glass, a giant snake, and a mouthful of curses.

Bring it on.

As she approached Ruzzah saw that it was a woman, and one of the First at that. She was also semi-translucent. Well, at least she was not the only dead person, here. In the best First Speech she could string together and in as friendly a voice as her dried, lizardfolk throat would allow, Ruzzah (hopefully) asked her what she was doing. She turned to regard Ruzzah, which was when she noticed that roughly half of her body was gone, as if it had been very cleanly sliced off.

And here she thought that people might be frightened of her.

Despite her shock Ruzzah was somehow able to catch enough of the First-half-full's response to understand that she was looking for her child, before she went right back to...picking up bits of bones from the grass, inspecting them, and casting them aside. Of course she was.

Okay, so maybe Ruzzah was the closest thing to normal in these parts.

She debated continuing trying to speak to the ghost. She was not sure if it would be capable of a meaningful response, plus it was possible that if she continued to interrupt her task that she might attack.

It was about then that she noticed the grass darkening and her wrappings starting to smoke. Her snake hissed and, well, snaked away. She looked up at the sun, which seemed to be shimmering, and suspected that if she still had eyes that she would probably have been struck blind. She looked around and spotted the ruins of a nearby tower that looked like it still had a ceiling. Fire erupted around her, which was all the incentive she needed to dash inside.

The tower was overgrown with roots and vines, but seemed solid and protected from...whatever it was that just happened. At any rate if she was going to find something, it would probably be inside a ruin anyway, so might as well check here, first. She climbed the first flight of stairs and came across a circular door with a complex sigil that occasionally pulsed with a green light.

She had no idea what it meant or its purpose, so of course she touched it. The entire face of the door illuminated with equally complex patterns, but otherwise nothing happened. Thinking that it might be keyed to a phrase, she went through a variety of elven words that as best she could recall meant open, friend, and please, but none of them worked.

She continued upstairs and encountered another door. This one had a reddish-gold symbol, equally as complex, but unlike the other one it maintained a constant brilliance. Since there was no ceiling here—the tower had broken off—rather than risk touching more strange runes she just slipped over the wall.

Ruzzah was not sure what to make of the room. It had been completely overtaken by trees that had grown through the floor and walls. Some looked like they had shelves carved into them, and the openings had "healed" almost completely shut. As she inspected the openings for, well, anything, she heard wood crack and snap from a nearby cluster of trees, as a skeletal limb noisily burst free from one of them.

The limb was followed by the rest of the skeleton that, given everything she had faced thus far, actually seemed pretty tame in comparison. Yeah, it was clawing its way out of a tree, its bones were blackened, and its armor looked partially melted, but really the only thing even remotely impressive about it was when it gripped a tree branch and transformed it into an ornate, albeit wooden sword in one, smooth motion.

She uttered a curse, which did little to deter it as it slashed at her, driving her back and into the door. The runes engraved on its surface flared to life before "peeling free", coalescing into a roiling sphere of red and gold. She touched it, hoping that her rotting touch would effect it in some way, but only succeeding in burning her hands.

Stuck between a floating fire-blob and wood-wielding skeleton, she was backing away from both, frantically considering her options when it began to glow brighter and expand. Figuring that something really bad was about to happen, she leapt back over the wall just in time to evade a violent, fiery explosion.

Hoping that the devastation affected the first door, she went downstairs only to discover that, no, it was still perfectly intact. So, plan b: clobbering time.

She gave it a good whack with her alligator club. This had two effects. The first was that it damaged the door and glowing symbol. The second was that the symbol erupted into a torrent of thorny vines. Thankfully she could not feel pain and the vines were alive: they wilted at her touch, and she was able to free freed herself without too much effort and enter the room.

As with the other room it looked like that the trees had been shaped into shelves at one point, but had been slowly growing back to normal. Unlike the other room there were lots of books scattered about, but most were damaged or even completely crushed. She spent a few hours flipping through the ones that she could, but eventually gave up due to her limited understanding of the First's language and a lack of enlightening images.

With no other leads she started going from tower to tower, and after many fruitless hours she ended up getting cornered in some ruins by a trio of griffin skeletons. At her command water flowed up from the ground, transforming it into a fetid mire and trapping them. As she looked about for a way to escape the floor collapsed, revealing a hidden chamber.

Normally she would have been satisfied with her change in fortune, but this was the first hidden anything she had found, and so descended into the depths. However the skeletons were still intact, and given that she was unable to frighten them off or destroy them with her touch, was forced to flee through the maze-like tunnels. Her snake was swift, and it was not hard to lose them; once they gained a considerable lead they found a room and sealed the door behind them.

The room was a circular shaft. Roots from seven trees grew from the walls, connecting to a golden tree in the center of the room, from which grew a golden sword.

Well, now this was promising.

Which probably meant that there was a trap.

She grasped the sword and gave it a pull. It did not yield, and from each of the surrounding trees a warrior made from wood emerged: one arm was stretched into a shield, while the other ended in a sharp blade.

This was less promising.

Though outnumbered, her rotting touch and massive snake proved far more effective than wooden swords and shields. In a handful of minutes the guardians were reduced to rotting splinters. She scanned the room, looking for any other traps or guardians. When she was confident that no skeletons or vines were going to pop out of anything, she again grabbed the sword, and pulled.

Behind the Scenes
We made a lot of changes after this session. You can check out the current text-version of the mummy here. At this stage of the game comments—either here or there—are welcome!

Originally we wanted to have the playbook represent a variety of mummies, from ones that were embalmed to more accidental cases, like bog and frozen mummies, each with their own special abilities (like frozen mummies being immune to fire and cold).

It was easy to create moves that were easily reskinnable: for example, Obscuring Cloud could be either a cloud of sand, vermin, or snow, while Perilous Ground could be quicksand, a mire, or a sheet of ice. The problem cropped up when we tried to frame everything in the fiction: why would deliberately created mummies and accidental ones have the same special abilities?

Things became a lot easier when we decided that all mummies are a deliberate creation, the result of special preparations and sacred rites, and generally someone of importance. We drew a lot of inspiration from Egyptian mummies (like the need for food and sleep), but there is nothing that says you could not be created from being interred into a bog or simply frozen.

Good For The Soul (CHA)
Unlike most undead, a mummy has got to eat. And drink. Eating and sleeping, while unnecessary for your body, still in a way nourish your soul. You also must sleep, which allows your soul to leave your body and journey to the land of the dead.

Originally this move had you roll+CHA to see how much soul you got, and you only had 1-3 (which represented good or bad things happening to you while you were there). Some moves would drain your hit points, and when those ran out you spend a point of Soul, roll+Soul, and depending on the result regained hit points.

There is now a Soul stat, and when you eat and sleep you gain half of it back, just like hit points. Spells almost always cost you Soul, which represents your soul becoming exhausted while working magic. When your Soul runs out you start taking your last breath, so you want to be careful, especially considering how it works with...

Good For The Body
The original move had you spend a Soul and roll+Soul remaining to determine how many hit points you regained. You were more resilient, but you had to be careful with your magic because some moves would cost you hit points, and since you roll plus your remaining Soul you were more likely to end up with only a few hit points, or even just one.

The new move has you spend Soul and roll+Soul spent to determine if/when your body reconstructs itself, most often at the next sunrise. So you are more likely to survive, but it is not like you can just spring back up.

Curse of the Mummy (CHA)
The original move dealt damage and had a stun effect, and on a 7-9 you could choose to lose hit points.

We changed this so that now it costs soul to use, and if you do not want anything else bad to happen can opt to burn another point of soul. There are also moves that allow you to forego damage to do something else, or spend more Soul to boost the effect of the curse.

Overhauling the Brakes
Earlier this week I made a major update to Something Stirs in the Blackscale Brakes. Partially it is because I wanted to make it available for print (which, assuming the review is successful, it will be shortly), partially it is because I have learned a lot about both Dungeon World and InDesign in the past six or so months, and figured that it could definitely stand for some improvement.

I combed through the adventure changing, sometimes removing, and adding a lot of new content, including a new steading (which all have impressions and cleaned up moves), location moves, lizardfolk race, monsters, magic items, dungeon gear, and maps like this one here:

I am going to be putting Sundered World up on kickstarter hopefully some time next month, and I want it to be amazingly awesome. Part of that it putting more effort into the stuff I write. I am going to be running If These Stones Could Scream through its own update process, so if you bought it and did not like something about it then please, please let me know. 

Legends & Lore: Whose Story Is It, Anyway

When it comes to 5th Edition, the flavor content is one of many things I have been very critical of: the stories pitched often ranged from merely confusing to hilariously bad, and sometimes only arbitrarily adhere to the mythology (such as, for starters, the gorgon being a metal bull and the hydra apparently having at least four varieties).

I did not have much to say about last week's Wandering Monsters column, except that while it was nice to see that they threw out having dragonborn being hatched from unblessed dragon eggs, it looks like people largely agreed with most of the polls, which means I am probably going to like very little of the flavor.

On a somewhat positive note, they are retaining 4th Edition's model of packaging and delivering flavor content, which makes it easier to pick out the general idea of a paragraph amid a wall of text (it is a shame that they did not apply this concept to spells and attacks). I do not think that monsters necessarily need a bunch of flavor text, but at least with a kind of tagline it will be easier to move from idea to idea, and find what I am looking for if I want to refer to it later.

I am not sure why Mearls says that they have not done this "much in the recent past", as Monster Vault and Monster Vault: Threats of the Nentir Vale were released in 2010 and 2011 respectively; maybe he is talking about the 5th Edition playtest? It would not be the first time it took them a few years to arrive at a previous conclusion, which also goes hand in hand with their "goal" of maintaining selective mechanical consistency with (select) prior editions.

I mean, jackalweres gotta have a sleep-inducing gaze in case you want to convert a previous adventure, but dragons do not have buckets of nonsense magic? How am I going to recapture the feel of mid- to high-level adventures if I am not constantly having to reference other books to figure out what spells and feats do? On a semi-related note, I am not sure why monsters have both Hit Dice and levels. Near as I can figure, nothing about them consistently informs the pointless amount of XP they are worth.
March 19, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Dresden Files: A Huldra in Hammerfest, Episode 102

  • Pernilla Hemming (Bare-Fisted Brawling Half-Hulra Orphan)
  • Aleksander Jorgensen (Would-Be Dragon Slayer)
  • Isra Dunlop (Nomadic Wizard)

Okay, let us recap.

Pernilla discovered a bunch of dead, rotting animals in the woods, was warned by a mostly-dead reindeer about death and such, and chased out of the woods by a shadow-something. Aleksander had learned that it was most likely due to a necromancer or pestilence demon, and had heard an ominous dragging noise in a shadowy part of town that was not supposed to be shadowy. Finally, they both heard from Gnorbitt that a very strange stranger just so happened to be looking for a boat, because he wanted to get to an island that was made from the corpse of a dead dragon.

Can you spot the theme, here? Because they both decided that it was probably just a coincidence, split up, and went home for the night. Possessed of a measure of sense, Pernilla did not want to go back to her camp, all by her lonesome, in the middle of the usually "only" troll-inhabited woods. Aleksander's family would not permit her to stay in their sprawling mansion, and he had already broken plenty of the rules as of late, so she defaulted to Isra. Granted he only had a small condo, but it was much closer and he was both a wizard and professional monster hunter.

In other words, well worth a lack of comfort and privacy.

She knocked on his door, and after a while heard him roll onto the floor and drag himself to the door. He fumbled with the lock, but eventually managed it. She tried to explain what had happened yesterday, but received a response that consisted of indecipherable grumbling as he motioned for her to enter, waved casually at the couch, and shambled back to his bed.

Pernilla laid on the couch for a few hours before drifting into a fitful sleep. She was awakened shortly thereafter by her stomach, which growled and clawed at her painfully; she realized she had not eaten anything at all the previous day. She got up, made her way to the fridge, opened it...and somehow managed to stifle a scream. Granted she did not know Isra particularly well: in addition to being an aforementioned wizard and monster hunter, she also knew that he was not always home and maintained a secondary base of sorts in the mountains.

So in terms of food she was not sure what to expect, if he would even have any food at all. What she was not expecting was for all of it, including the condiments, to be completely covered in mold.

She choked back a gag, closed the fridge, and looked at Isra. He was still sleeping and not in any apparent way a zombie. Well, he did not seem to be rotting, at least. Okay, so maybe he just had not checked his fridge in...weeks? Maybe even months? How long did it take ketchup to go bad? Her piece of mind demanded substantiation. Unfortunately, for her piece of mind, as she went to wake him something started scratching at the door. She froze, again stifling a scream: whatever was about to come through that door, it had better have huldra insurance.

Seconds stretched into minutes, but the door remained mercifully closed. When she dared to take another step, however, a faint, creaky voice whispered, "Little huldra, little hulda, let me in..."

She dashed over to Isra and frantically shook him awake. Despite her panic he barely acknowledged her, only asking pointedly if she was aware of the time. She responded by almost yanking his arm out of its socket as she effortlessly hauled him over to the fridge, opened it, and demanded an explanation. He stated that he had restocked it a few days ago, because of course he did, because of course whatever was responsible for the rotting animals was right outside the door, but just to make sure there was absolutely no doubt, again something scratched at the door and whispered, "Little huldra, little huldra, let me in..."

Isra motioned for Pernilla to lift him up so he could check the window above the door. He could see nothing in the hall except inky darkness, which was normally lit, and even when he tried to conjure magical light it did not work. Okay, new plan. He grabbed his gun, conveyed through pantomime a plan where Pernilla would stand on one side of the door, he would open it, and then they would shoot and punch whatever happened to be there. Pernilla shook her head, but Isra opened the door anyway.

There was nothing there but darkness.

Isra tried shining a flashlight into it, but the gloom seemed to consume the light. Figuring that maybe the darkness was alive, he decided to give shooting a, well, shot. Before he could pull the trigger a clearly reptilian hand darted out of the shadows. It stopped as it slammed into Isra's wards, and there was a brilliant flash of light. When their vision cleared, they saw that the hand was encased in ice. It flexed, shook the ice free, and a shrouded figure stalked into the room.

"Little huldra...little huldra,"

It moved past Isra, seemingly oblivious to his presence; he took the opportunity to fire his gun point blank at its head, but it did not seem to notice. Even Pernilla's supernatural strength did not have much more of an effect than his bullets. Its claws, on the other hand, proved exceedingly effective, tearing deep gashes across Pernilla's torso and flinging her through the sliding glass door and on to the balcony.

It continued to advance towards Pernilla, so Isra decided to see how it took to magic, blasting it with an intense jet of water. This had more of an effect, actually knocking it off of its feet and into a wall. It also got its attention, which was good for Pernilla and very, very bad for Isra. Pernilla was not out quite yet, and with its back now turned to her she bit back the pain and lobbed a couch at it, knocking it partially through the wall. As Pernilla pondered whether they were actually hurting it, a tail snaked out from its robes, wrapping around the couch and flinging it aside.

It threw the couch at Isra, who rolled underneath it, narrowly dodged its claws as he ran past, grabbed Pernilla, and dove off the balcony. The landing hurt, but not nearly as bad as it would have had they stuck around to fight a losing battle, and they bolted for the lighthouse.

Aleksander was there, having been consigned by Marek, the Order's patriarch and his grandfather, to a full day shift for his curfew violation the previous day. Isra knocked on the door, exclaiming that Pernilla was badly hurt. Aleksander asked what had happened as he descended the stairs, and when Isra mentioned rotting food and the shadowy lizard-thing he stopped, pondering what he had learned yesterday at the library. Pernilla mistook his hesitation for fear, and punched the door off its hinges.

Aleksander was furious, not because the door could not be replaced, but because it would not be replaced before someone discovered that it had been destroyed, and he was already in a lot of trouble. However, his anger was softened when he saw Pernilla's wounds. He treated them as best he could with the first-aid kit he had on hand, while Isra used her blood to create a magical misdirection in case whatever it was that attacked them came looking for her.

As noon came, Aleksander noticed that her wounds looked like they were infected, so he called home to see if they had more advanced medical supplies. His cousin wanted to know why. For obvious reasons Aleksander did not want to explain himself, but eventually relented, and his cousin said he would send someone over.

Marek arrived. Thankfully he brought medicine, and and was able to keep his anger in check just long enough to get Aleksander up stairs. He told him that the door would be repaired today, his probation would be extended for a month, and warned that if he made one more mistake he would be cast from the Order. Aleksander tried to explain that there was something really bad going on, but Marek dismissed him, stating that their only responsibility was the island.

After Marek left, Pernilla and Isra stuck around to help fix the door, figuring it was the least they could do. An hour later someone knocked on the door frame: it was a man, clad in black, with a broad hat and dark glasses. His skin seemed too tight, and his smile seemed strange and forced.

"Excuse me, but would it be possible to rent a boat?"

Behind the Scenes
You can see the city and character sheets here (it is missing Kamon's character).

This was definitely a learning experience, particularly for magic. Kamon asked about wards, so we looked it up on the spot and kind of winged it so as to avoid eating up too much time trying to figure it out, ultimately treating it like a freebie attack when the creature tried to enter. I was fine with allowing Isra to have a ward setup beforehand, since it was reasonable and made the encounter more tense.

Same goes for the thaumaturgy effect, which again we were trying to figure out during play. I had him roll Lore, let him tag some aspects that made sense, and used the final result as the number the creature would need to meet-or-beat in order to locate Pernilla. It was not great, but hey, they do not know what it rolled.

It was nice to see more aspect-tagging this time around; I suspect the first session was mostly because it was a new mechanic for them, having played mostly Dungeons & Dragons before.

Melissa ended up tagging Don't Know My Own Strength to get a re-roll in combat, and I ended up tagging it later to have her break down the door. I also tagged some of Ben's stuff, namely Duty-Bound and My Hands Are Tied to get him in trouble. I really need to remember Home School Hell for when he tries to do more research...

Dungeon World: Mummy Playtest, Part 1

As Ruzzah was flung towards the tree, she had just enough time to reflect on the fact that at least she would not feel any pain.

Her next thought was that she really wished Varash had not brought her back to life. Or rather unlife, as she was still quite dead.

She had been floating formlessly within a warm, comforting expanse of darkness, only torpidly aware of her existence and surroundings. Now and then, over an indeterminable expanse of time she would feel the Serpent's coils brush up against her. She was not sure how she knew what the sensation was; she just knew, and was not afraid of it.

It took her awhile to acknowledge that there was a noise. As it grew louder, she eventually realized that she recognized it as speech, as if she had forgotten was speech was and was slowly remembering it (which was not far from the truth). No, wait, it was...shouting. Someone was shouting, and whoever it was kept repeating one of the words.

It was her name.

With this revelation the warmth and comfort of this darkness were replaced, thankfully only briefly, with a cold oppression. She began to worry about what had happened and wonder where she was--worry and wonder being two sensations she had not experienced for quite some time--the darkness slid away as she was hauled out of a murky pool by a pair of lizardfolk.

This is when she met Varash, clad in the accoutrements befitting a shaman of the Ssashak tribe: shells, skins, obsidian, and a massive snake skull. His body was extensively tattooed with symbols and names of both specific and generic spirits, and ritually scarred to show dedication, or to perhaps pay the more grisly tolls some spirits might demand.

He was also holding a heart.

Surrounding the pool were eight stone alters. A lizardfolk was tied to each, and each had had their chests carved open, presumably to remove the heart. It looked like he had been busy paying much steeper tolls than blood, which would explain what had happened to her.

Varash greeted her with a deep bow and recitation of the titles she bore in life, and the ones she earned in death. He explained that he had seen the portents and heard whispers from the spirits: the Herald was stirring in his slumber and would soon awaken. Ruzzah knew the story from her previous life: the Herald was responsible for creating the swamp, but had to rest after such a taxing ordeal. When he awakened, his hunger would be so great that he would consume everything in the swamp. Many lizardfolk tribes accepted this as the way of things, but some tried to forestall the event.

Varash believed there was a way to prevent it completely.

They had captured a group of the First traveling towards the Heartwood, and learned that they were trying to find one of their lost cities so that they could destroy the Herald. Of course they would not divulge any more information, and after much torture were sacrificed to the Serpent for their trespass. Even so that meant that there was a way, they would just have to figure it what it was for themselves.

The First were careless and stupid, and their abuse of magic had cursed the center-most region of the swamp. The lizardfolk referred to it as the Heartwood because they believed that it gave life to the rest of the swamp, but even so it was a very dangerous place. The plants were alive and often hungry, the ghosts of the First could not find their way out, and sometimes the sun would look too closely and burn what it gazed upon.

But where the living failed, maybe the dead could prevail. He provided her with an alligator club, food, rain stick, and riding snake, and she set off in search of...something, somewhere.

It would be a few hours later before she found herself face-first in the tree. She picked herself up and turned towards the snake to see what had happened: it was entangled in vines, and more were slithering towards it. Assuming that the plant itself was the threat, she rushed towards it and began hacking the snake free. That was when the vines ensnared her hand.

Ah. So something was controlling them. She looked about but could see nothing. She struggled to escape, but when she could not wrench her sword-arm free used her other hand, the touch of which caused the vines wither away. That was when she saw...whatever it was that was controlling them.

It was slender, similar in shape and size to one of the First's females. Its hair was like rotting, lanky vines, and its skin was blackened bark that cracked and bled with every movement. One of its arms was extended, and as it tried to close its hand into a fist the snake hissed and writhed in agony.

Ruzzah decided to use a little magic of her own, whispering ancient words at the creature. It froze for a moment, and then began clawing wildy at its face, tearing off strips of dried, flaking bark. The vines collapsed, and Ruzzah slashed at it with her club. Its body was like sodden, dead wood, and she easily carved a large chunk out of the mid section. Recovering from Ruzzah's curse, it tried to claw at her with gnarled talons, but she knocked it back with her shield and planted her club in its face, splitting it in two.

Ruzzah looked around to see if there were any more, and noticed a tree that looked like it had been sliced in half, not unlike the creature's face. She walked towards it and saw that it was hollow, inside which were stuffed numerous corpses in various stages of decay, some First, some human, some...she was not sure. One was clutching a small sack in his hand. She pried it free and discovered that it contained numerous rubies. They would make a fine sacrifice for the Serpent.

The next day they made it to the border of the Heartwood. It was marked by a drastic shift in the flora: where the swamp had plenty of trees and other plants, it was at least fairly easy to find a way through, even if that way meant wading or swimming through murky water. The Heartwood? Unless you were very small, finding a path was difficult without taking the time to laboriously carve one yourself.

Ruzzah did so, with the snake following in her wake, and after much work and luck found a clearing that contained the ruins of one of the Firsts' cities.

The grass was waist high, and she could see the ruins of their stone towers unevenly jutting forth like old teeth, overgrown with vines and trees. The sun hung directly overhead, and in random places and intervals the air seemed to "shimmer". Though she was unsure what they meant, she figured it was best to avoid them all the same. The only noteworthy feature that she could spot was a stone ring near the center of the clearing, so she decided to investigate there first.

As she walked to it, something leapt from one of the ruined towers and tore into the snake. It was the skeleton of a strange creature that she had never seen before: it was quadruped, like a lizard, but had a beaked skull like that of a bird. She ran up the length of the snake and struck it in the head, cleaving off most of it. It released the snake and pounced on her, knocking her to the ground and pinning both of her arms. Unable to free herself she unleashed another curse, which caused it to crumble to dust.

With the creature destroyed she slowly and carefully made it the rest of the way to the ring. It was made of numerous stones, each carved with a single large rune. She touched it, and when nothing happened climbed it so that she could better survey the area.

What did she see? Find out next time!

Behind the Scenes

You can check out the alpha draft of the mummy here. Comments are very much welcome, as we are still trying to iron out the drives/alignment and starting moves.

In addition to working on a mummy playbook for Dungeon World, I am also revamping Something Stirs in the Blackscale BrakesPartially it is because I feel like I am a lot wiser about Dungeon World and could stand to improve it, partially because I want to be able to offer more stuff as physical books (like oh, say, Sundered World), which demands a specifically formatted pdf file.

(NOTE: If you buy it or already bought it, you will get the new version once I update the file.)

I think that running through a few sessions with the skeleton prior to publishing it was very helpful in seeing how the mechanics played out, so I figured this time why not play with both and see how they work in action?

The adventure does not mention, well, really anything about the lizardfolk and their culture besides that some tribes are willing to deal with humans, and others...not so much. This is by design, because part of the whole Dungeon World thing is to draw maps, leave blanks, and ask the players questions, and I only wanted to give the GM some building blocks to do with as she pleases.

While I am still not going to establish much of the fiction, I am going to showcase the fiction that Melissa and I come up with as we play in a "director's cut" section, as well as some more example maps. Here is some of the stuff that we came up with so far:
  • Melissa figured that the lizardfolk subsist by hunting and gathering, with those living near rivers also fishing. They view the rivers as manifestations of a kind of snake god that they worship: sacrifices are performed in the rivers to feed the Serpent, and water is routed to temple hatcheries, because it is believed that the river carries new souls.
  • The dragon is both a creator and destroyer. They believe that it created the swamp, but that when it awakens it will devour everyone.
  • They gather stone and obsidian from the mountains. To them the volcanoes are the shells of turtle spirits that, if not properly placated, will awaken, devour the sun, and crush them. Every year during the winter solstice they bring it fish and other sacrifices.
  • The dead are cast into a bog, where they sink into the underworld in order to await rebirth.
As with A Sundered World, I made up almost everything on the fly (especially the intro), relying on the adventure for the front, locations, and monster ideas (ie, its intended purpose). If Melissa was playing something more normal, like a human or elf, then I would have started her out in Reedsport or Murkwall. As it was I needed to improvise:

Sur-Ssashak (Village)
Prosperity Poor
Population Shrinking
Defense Guard (since pretty much every adult lizardfolk is capable of fighting)
Religion The Serpent
Other Resource (food, obsidian), Enmity (Reedsport, Murkwall), Primal, Lizardfolk, Craft (obsidian jewelry), Blight (corrupted spirits, elves, undead)

(ANOTHER NOTE: I'll also be putting this in the adventure update, so there is at last one lizardfolk steading.)

Melissa loved the way the session started out. She mentioned that she would have had something like an earthquake awaken her, but was pleasantly surprised that her character had been brought back to life as part of a ritual. It says something about the importance of her character and the lizardfolk (in our interpretation of the adventure, anyway): they have the capacity to bring someone back to life, just dead and at great cost (sacrificing a bunch of other lizardfolk).

She also liked the curse and rotting touch, as they allowed her to creatively get out of jams. We have not had cause to use the soul mechanic, so still not sure if it is too good or pointless.

Quick note: the First are what the lizardfolk call elves, since they were there first. They believe that the Herald drove them away and changed the swamp as a gift for them.

Since even blighted dryads are tied to their trees, I decided to have the tree become damaged in the same way that the blighted dryad was (hence it was split in half). Blighted dryads are in constant agony, so are less interested in enticing mortals and more about torturing them (hence the tree stuffed with dead bodies).

Dresden Files: A Huldra in Hammerfest, Episode 101

  • Pernilla Hemming (Bare-Fisted Brawling Half-Huldra Orphan)
  • Aleksander Jorgensen (Would-Be Dragon Slayer)

Pernilla packed up her fishing gear and started back to camp. This week had been pretty bad; she would have to try and pick up some extra hours swindling people at Gnorbitt's. She had been doing that a lot lately, which meant that she would need to work on some new glamours, so as to avoid the other patrons from catching on to her act.

As she began following the stream out of the forest she smelled-well-before-the-saw dead fish along the bank. A lot of dead fish. When she bent to examine them more closely, she realized that they looked like they had been rotting for quite awhile, which was strange because she had been coming here almost every day for the past few weeks and had neither seen nor smelled them before.

Perhaps more ominous was that it looked like that they had been leaping away from the stream, as if vainly trying to flee from...something. Whatever it was did not seem to eat any of them. Concerned, she backtracked up stream to see if she could find an explanation for the phenomenon, and as she walked continued to find more dead fish, all rotting, and no signs of any vermin or scavengers. After about a half hour she found a small pond. Not only were there fish surrounding it, but there was also a reindeer carcass lying nearby. It, like the fish, looked to have been dead for a long time.

She picked up a stick and jabbed it, because she had not been properly educated by enough movies to know better. To her surprise its head propped up. It stared at her with an empty socket, gurgling out the words, "Death is coming" before flopping back down with a sickly plop.

Pernilla froze. After several too-long moments she realized that she had been holding her breath, and for some reason exhaled as slowly and quietly as she could. Something did not feel right. Yes, there were rotting animals everywhere for seemingly no reason, and yes, a dead deer had spoken to her (which was unusual for at least two reasons), but there was something else.

She was being watched.

She looked around: the forest had become still, and despite the sun hanging overhead the shadows had somehow gotten deeper.

Without moving the reindeer again gurgled, "You had better run along, miss."

She did.

She was not sure if she was being chased, but fearfully, instinctively obeyed the dead, strangely polite deer corpse (though she would not think about that until much later), not stopping or even daring to look back until she was well beyond the forest's edge. When she did look back she saw that the forest was steeped in darkness, as if the sun refused to enter. She could also see...she was not sure what it was, exactly a darker blot amid the gloom. She was not sure how she could have spotted it, but she was sure of one thing: despite her inability to discern any features, it was looking at her.

Again, she ran.

This time she headed to the lighthouse. Aleksander was on duty and saw her coming from a ways away. He could see that she was in a hurry, and obviously distraught. He also knew that she was unnaturally strong and in her panic was liable to break something, like the door, or a wall. Maybe both. He hurried downstairs to meet her, and once she was inside managed to pick out a few details here and there between labored gasps about rotting fish, dead, talking (polite?) reindeer, shadows, and things-in-the-shadows.

Once she had caught her breath and calmed down he was able to get a more cohesive story. He told her that once his shift was over he would walk her into town and hit the books while she was "working" at the Tipsy Gnome. The Order was not fond of non-members at the lighthouse, and since someone else would be on duty at the lighthouse they would have to meet somewhere else. They agreed to meet at the geodetic arc obelisk once she was done "working".

Night fell, and as Pernilla was getting ready to leave a man entered the bar. He was dressed in black, and wore a broad hat and large, black glasses. His skin seemed to stretch over his skull a bit too tight, and his mouth was contorted into a wide, too-toothy grin. He strode past Pernilla without paying her any mind, approached the bar, and waved over Gnorbitt. She could not hear what they were talking about, so she ducked into the bathroom to assume a more...indistinctive appearance, all the better to eavesdrop, but by the time she returned he had already left.

She bolted out the door, and when she could find no trace of him figured that she might as well go meet Aleksander at the arc obelisk. Aleksander on the other hand was already almost there. As he approached it he saw that the surrounding street lights were unlit for about a block in every direction: given the events that had transpired earlier with Pernilla he was not about to chalk it up to coincidence. He continued past, through the darkened square, hoping to head Pernilla off somewhere well-lit. Populated and inside a building would also be nice.

Something moved. Something big.

It was like a large animal—at least he hoped it was just an animal—was dragging itself across the ground. He looked across the square, and when he could only see the obelisk's silhouette in the streetlights beyond, quickly changed gears to a brisk pace that some could mistake for jogging, possibly even running, and ran into Pernilla several blocks away in a mercifully well-lit street. He decided against telling her about the noise he had heard, divulging only what he had learned at the library: the animals had likely died due to a necromancer or—if they were very unlucky—some kind of demonic entity.

Pernilla mentioned the possibility of a reindeer spirit being involved, what with the dead reindeer warning her and all. Aleksander suggested asking Gnorbitt if he knew a way to get ahold of any spirits, since it was well outside their areas of expertise (which largely amounted to stabbing or punching things apart), so they both returned to the bar. Pernilla approached Gnorbitt, but before she could speak asked her if she had seen the "strange guy with the weird smile".

Oh yeah, she could have asked him what they were talking about. She did, and Gnorbitt replied that he had been looking to rent a boat to visit the nearby island. The island that Aleksander's Order had been charged with watching for centuries.

The one that was made from a dead dragon.

First off, if you are interested in checking out our city and character sheets (which might be helpful in understanding the characters, story, locations, etc), click here.

This is my second Dresden Files game (and by extension, FATE), and the fourth session overall (the first time being a three-parter that took place in Portland, which we unfortunately never finished). We talked about doing an unorthodox setting, maybe medieval or wild west, before finally somehow settling on Hammerfest. I am not even sure how we got there; at some point Melissa just mentioned it while browsing places on a tablet PC.

Awesome name aside it was a lot of fun lifting material from the actual city—Polar Bear Society, Geodetic Arc Obelisk, and reindeer—putting our own spin on it, and adding some other stuff like the island made from a dead dragon, lighthouse that watches over it, and a kind of Finnish dragon. I think this kind of collaborative world-building (or rather, city building) does a lot to get players invested in the game, since they get some creative input on both the setting and direction of the game, as opposed to just their own character.

I have been talking/ranting about games for just over five years, and I figure by now there are countless readers that have always wanted to show their support, it has just been too much of a hassle to mail envelopes brimming with cash.

So, to make things easier I started a Patreon account. If you like what I am doing and have the cash to spare, then consider becoming a patron. The beauty of it is that no matter how much exemplary content I post you only get charged once a month, so you will have complete control over how much you spend.
March 11, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: Skeleton Playbook

The skeleton playbook is up for sale on Drivethrurpg.

This playbook allows you to play a bonafide monster: how did you die? What brought you back across the threshold of the Black Gate into a state of unlife? What are you going to do about it?

As a skeleton you are not only harder to kill, but your unique brand of strange abilities allow you to create weapons from your bones, detach parts of your body and control them from a distance, skullk around the shadows (and even teleport between them), transfer your soul into other skeletons, help your allies out in a pinch, ask the dead questions, and more.

Melissa and I had a lot of fun conceiving and writing this playbook which, thanks to playtest sessions and feedback from the gang over at the Dungeon World Tavern, grew from a bare-bones concept to a more...well, it is still bones, but they have been polished. Polished with...careful scrutiny and gradual refinement.

Aaanyway, give it a look, and if you do buy it let me know what you think (good or bad), and/or leave a star-rating if it is not too much trouble.

Legends & Lore: The Bard's Fail

Bards have often ironically been pretty much a joke, especially in 3rd Edition where they are billed as the "ultimate generalist" and best in a "supporting role".

The reality is that with only two cantrips per day, fewer skill points than the rogue (a good chunk of which are probably getting dumped into various Charisma-based skills, particularly at least one Perform), a cleric's attack bonus (which starts out not so bad, but impacts her more and more down the road), and a rogue's Hit Die they were basically only really useful for talking to things, which was in turn largely as useful as your Dungeon Master allowed.

Mearls claims that the designers "took a sledgehammer to a few of the bard's traditional concepts", which is not exactly true: what they really did was add more spells and some skill mechanics, and rename bardic music and make it more broadly applicable. Granted, it makes the bard a more attractive class since it will probably be actually competent at doing something besides possible Diplomacy-abuse, but that is less breaking it apart and rebuilding from the ground up/removing stuff entirely, and more just...piling more crap on top.

Another bit of irony is that what Mearls describes makes me think of 4th Edition's bard. It was very much different from the traditional bard, by which I mean it was fucking awesome and competent. They can, for starters, be built around a melee, ranged, or mixed concept (you do not have to pick a style and stick with it), have the same number of spells as other spellcasters (including a killer joke), get a big bonus to talking to people, can multiclass more than anyone else, and even have thematic feats that, for example, gives them a small bonus to any skill they are not trained in.

It would have been nice if they did break the class down, ponder the rubble for a bit, throw it away because aside from 4th Edition—which they are loathe to acknowledge—it has never worked, consider what it is supposed to be doing, and completely rebuild the class from the ground up with mechanics that actually support the mission statement. But, hey, people are not calling it D&D Previous for nothing.

(Or wondering how it took them over two years to arrive at this point.)

So of course we have the lazily designed, uninspired nonsense magic that in no way evokes a bard weaving music into magic (or, frankly, anything that any spellcaster does). That is a given, and we just have to accept it, because it is not like they have another book from the epoch that they are for some reason exhuming rules from that would at least be a step towards giving magic some semblance of mechanically-supported flavor. Besides that, what confuses me is why Bardic Inspiration has a daily limitation for any other reason than a purely mechanical one.

Mearls mentions how its flexibility can be tied to the narrative component of the game, which is a good thing because when done well it can evoke that whole feel thing (that by Mearls's own definition 5th Edition does not). The problem is how its daily limitation disrupts the narrative. A lot. I mean, it does not sound magical (not that it being magical would make any more sense), so...why the limitation? How is it that the bard can inspire someone only a set number of times? Do they, I dunno, run out of words?

Why not, say, have the bard make a check. On a success she grants a bonus, while a failure imposes a penalty? This could reflect bad advice, the bard disrupting the character's concentration, misinterpreted instructions, or the character becoming overconfident and making a mistake. That way you would not need to give it a nonsense daily limit, and it would be more risky.

Nah. Why go through all the trouble trying to make something great, when "good enough" will probably sell juuust fine.
March 10, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: Skeleton Playtest, Part 3

Phonos and Vassilis cleared away the rocks and descended into the formian nest.

The walls were studded with numerous crystalline growths that glowed in a variety of colors. Phonos broke a piece off, partially to see if it would do anything dangerous, partially to see if it would continue to glow; to his disappointment it did neither. Figuring that they might have some value to someone, he broke off several more pieces and pocketed them.

Deeper inside they found formian bodies strewn about. They were not moving, but since Phonos did not know anything about formians he could not tell if they were just unconscious or dead. To be sure he methodically removed each of their heads. He would need proof of his deed at any rate. And of course trophies. And, again, maybe they were faking it?

The path soon came to a fork. When nothing distinguished them from each other they just flipped a coin and ended up going right, which eventually lead them to an open chamber. The walls were riddled with numerous holes, which was frustrating to Phonos because he did not want to have to take a long time trying to figure out which one lead to the prisoners and/or whatever amounted to a formian ruler (plus he was secretly disappointed that his plan of suffocating seemed to be so effective).

Thankfully a pair of live formians came scuttling out of one of the holes. Their attack was more coordinated than Phonos had anticipated, and their bodies were as tough as steel. This did not present much of a problem for Phonos, who was accustomed to hewing through assorted things (and now lacked fleshy organs that tended to concern the living), but Vassilis? Not so much. By the time Phonos finished chopping one apart and smashing the other one into crystals, he had been pretty badly wounded.

Phonos considered one of the formian corpses: they not only had tough bodies and four arms, but maybe it would work as a disguise, too. He willed his soul into it, and once he settled in was surprised to find that he could somehow sense where the formians would located. They went into the hole that the formians had existed, which lead them to an egg chamber. Vassilis mentioned that the fluid in the eggs had healing properties; he managed to gargle one down, and they snagged a few more and smashed the rest.

With his psychic link they were able to easily locate to the queen's chamber while evading the other formians. It was much larger than the others they had seen, and there were many sections of the wall that looked like they had been artificially smoothed out. In the center was a massive crystalline throne, and what Phonos could only surmise was the queen squatted upon it. A pair of formians stood in front of her: they were somewhat larger than the others they had seen, and wielded barbed spears that looked to be made from a substance similar to their bodies.

After a lengthy battle the pair managed to limp away with some survivors—including Vassilis's sister—the queen's head, and a huge opal. They returned to Antwall and the leader, upon seeing proof that the queen had been slain and suvivors returned more or less safely, promised to spread word of his deeds so that maybe people would not be so quick to judge an intelligent, well-and-multi-armed and armored skeleton. Phonos tried to pawn off the opal, but after talking to several people learned two things: no one could hope to afford it, and it was magical.

Unfortunately no one was able to discern the egg's magical properties, either, and the best lead he got was to seek out an oracle who was said to live in the mountains beyond a dark, dangerous forest, which Vassilis volunteered to guide him through as thanks for saving his sister. Before they left Phonos returned to where he had fought the owlbear, animating it with a shred of his soul so that he could use it as a war mount. A couple of days  and manticores later they made it through the forest, up the mountains, and arrived at an old, overgrown temple.

They spoke—and only spoke—to the oracle, who explained that the "opal" was in fact a dormant pegasus egg, and after a further explanation involving the definition of dormant and pegasus told him that he would to seek help from the elves in order to hatch it.

Behind the Scenes
We learned the hard way that giving static benefits with Skullduggery opened a flood gate of potential abuse. Melissa gave me 4 armor, because the formian drone also had 4 armor, and it made the fights against the centurions and queen incredibly easy.

My knee-jerk reaction was to make it so that the move only allowed you to temporarily possess a skeleton (like Johann Krauss from Hellboy), but after talking with someone on the Dungeon World Tavern community on Google Plus we decided to fold the effect into Them Bones, keep it permanent, and treat it a lot like the druid's Shapechange move: you can possess a skeleton, but you do not necessarily gain any hard mechanical benefits.

Otherwise I think my only criticism was that the formian hive could have stood to be filled with more monsters, as it would have been interesting to try and deal with a whole hive, maybe even having to sneak through it or hide in a passage so that they could not come at us full force. I think Melissa was just afraid of making it too difficult, which is understandable since, again, her first campaign and all.

At any rate the skeleton playbook has since been finalized and submitted to Drivethrurpg, so we are probably going to drop this campaign so we can start playtesting our mummy playbook (or maybe the ghoul), as well as a solo Sundered World campaign.

Formian Egg Slow, 1 weight
When you consume the, uh, "contents" of a formian egg, roll+CON. *On a 10+, you manage to keep it down and regain 1d8 hit points. *On a 7-9, you manage to keep most of it down but you are not feeling so good; regain 1d6 hit points and gain the sick debility.
March 08, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Bore-lock

Apparently people were disappointed with 5th Edition's first stab at the warlock...because it did not have stronger ties to previous incarnations?

3rd Edition's warlock "boasted" the whole rigid class features that you had to write down in whatever arbitrary order the designer decided upon method, allowing a measure of customization in the form of 12 magical abilities over the 20-level run. 4th Edition let you choose a pact, each with a unique benefit, as well as all of your spells (many of which received benefits if you had a certain pact).

5th Edition's original draft retained the pact, expanding its impact to not only include physical "signs" that could betray your allegiance, but also became more obvious over time. The magical abilities required you to spend boons, which you regained after each short rest, meaning that for a brief period of time 5th Edition had a spellcaster that sensibly had encounter-based resources. Really it sounds like it was pretty much caught in the middle of the past two editions, so what was it missing, exactly? Was whatever it was missing even the best thing for the class?

Of course we all know that what was "missing" was the utterly boring, uninspired, nonsense magic system that has plagued Dungeons & Dragons throughout the editions. Forget designing a magic system that actually conveys how the warlock gains and uses magic (and, for that matter, every other spellcasting class); just slap on 5th Edition's even more absurd spin on pseudo-Vancian magic, where you get some spells that are for some reason limited on a per-day basis, some that can be used whenever you want, and some that can be used whenever you want if you have enough time.

I am assuming that the type of pact—blade, chain, or tome—will basically amount to a restrictive sub-class, where you choose one early on to unnecessarily lock in five class features down the road, because it is not like class features could be divided into categories that characters could pick from as they level up, potentially choosing things in a different order. Granted I could be wrong, but this article is all tell and no show (so, nothing new), and it is not like we have seen much of anything from 5th Edition that fosters meaningful decision making or reflects on innovation.

Is there an actual reason that the warlock has less flexibility for any reason besides, "We had to find a way to make them different from the wizard and sorcerer, and writing rules to support the flavor is too hard"? These guys are granted magic from something powerful enough to even be able to dole it out (something that, say, epic wizards cannot even do); I would expect the warlock to be able to get in touch with her patron to call in a favor, or get a more useful spell (not that I would saddle a warlock with wizard-type spells in the first place: that is just lazy), especially if the warlock is doing something relevant to her patron's interests.

Like the sorcerer, the warlock's first draft had a lot more promise. The boons better reflected that the warlock had to communicate with something to regain her borrowed magic, and I would have loved to see it expanded on to allow the warlock to make sacrifices or attain certain goals to gain additional power (maybe even just for a short period of time). But, no, instead we get a class that is shoehorned into a mechanical niche, because throttling the spell list is way easier than designing interesting mechanics.

Dungeon World: Skeleton Playtest, Part 2

Phonos "awoke" from his rest. He took a tour around his ruin-turned-home, just in case he had missed anything, specifically treasure or monsters. When he found neither he stacked up a pile of bones and skulls near the ruin's entrance, and hung a sign on a door that said "Lair...If You Dare". He hoped that by the time he returned something worth fighting and/or smart enough to carry gold would have taken him up on his offer.

Still unsure of the lay of the land he returned to the place where he encountered the pair of satyrs, hoping they could give him directions to a town or monster lair, but they had already left. With no other obvious course he continued to follow the road, keeping to the forest to better conceal himself from travelers.

His plan worked insofar as no common folk noticed him, not so much in that an owlbear came crashing through the underbrush, bowling into him and knocking them both to the ground. The struggle cost him an arm and several ribs (thankfully no legs...this time), but after many, many sword stabs and even a few short-lived owlbear rides he managed to slay the beast. While there was no gold its head would still make a nice trophy for a wall of skulls that he decided, at that particular point in time, to erect behind his throne, which would ideally also be made of skulls, or at least one really big one.

During the de-boning he heard sticks breaking, leaves crunching, and...chittering? He waited until he could barely hear the noise before following it, hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever was making the noise from a very safe distance. Eventually he caught sight of the sources: there were three of them, and they looked like bugs, specifically ants, but as big as a man. They marched in a column, with the lead creature stopping to...smell the ground, he supposed, and the other two carrying the carcass of a massive boar.

Phonos followed them. They lead him into some low mountains, and through a winding ravine to a cave mouth that he assumed was their lair. Before they disappeared inside he shouted to get their attention. They turned around but did not advance, so he threw a rock at them, which prompted a more aggressive response. Thankfully he was able to outpace them, which was good to know, but when he returned to the cave there were now two more waiting. Phonos did not like his odds, especially when he considered the likelihood that there were probably a lot more inside; he made a note of the ant-creature's lair, and returned to the road.

After a few more hours of walking Phonos came across a walled town that was separated by a wide river, which was spanned by a stone bridge. He knew at some point his interactions with the living would have to extend beyond slaughter, so he crossed the bridge, threw down his sword, and spoke to the guards. They were understandably reserved at first, but during a lengthy discussion with their commander he discovered that the ant-creatures--formians--were a problem for them. He said that he had located their hive, and would destroy them as a gesture of good will.

They restocked his supplies (ie, adventuring gear) and even provided him with a barrel of pitch at his request. On his way back to the lair he ran into one of the villagers, a boy barely-turned-man named Vassilis. His sister had been taken by the formians a few days ago, and he hoped to either bring her back alive or retrieve her remains for a proper burial. To Phonos he did not look like much, but he was willing to help and could at least carry a sword and shield.

Once they arrived at the lair they gathered some stones of various sizes into place above the entrance. Then they lit the barrel of pitch on fire and rolled it inside, and blocked p the entrance as best they could with the stones. Once they were satisfied that none of the formians would be able to escape, Phonos allowed Vassilis to get some sleep while he kept watch until morning came.

Next Time: Into The Formian's Lair

Behind the Scenes
The owlbear fight was crazy awesome: I lost an arm, almost a leg, and went through quite a few Bones before finally taking it down.

My knee-jerk reaction when making this character was that, hey, Constitution determines your Bones, and you use Bones, so it should be the highest. I think that were I to remake this character I would probably have made Strength my highest stat, especially considering that he is a barbarian and loves him some Hack and Slash. As a side note I did boost Strength when I leveled up, and took Rods and Plates since I seem to get stuck in the thick of it so much, but the next time I level I will probably take Dance of Death so I can go back and get that owlbear skeleton.

Melissa got to get a crash course in building both a steading and hireling. Here is what she came up with for her first steading:

Antwall (Village)
Prosperity Moderate
Population Steady
Defenses Militia
Other Safe (walls), Blight (formians), Need (adventurers), Personage (Nicondros), Resource (fish, meat)

The people of Antwall primarily either fish or raise livestock. The river and walls usually keep them safe from the formians. She has not made a front yet, but I could easily see the formians as a hordes danger for an adventure front.
March 03, 2014
Posted by David Guyll


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