Friday, December 27, 2013

Nine Virtues of Magnus the Pious - module review and play report

The Nine Virtues of Magnus the Pious is a Warhammer  Fantasy Role Play introductory module, I believe for the second edition.  I know that the stat blocks don't quite match up with the first edition.  As soon as I read through it it I knew that I was going to run it.  It's not your typical dungeon crawl, instead it's a MacGuffin hunt set in the midst of a city being sacked.

In format, it's a copiously and sometimes inaccurately illustrated forty two page PDF.  The first ten pages are illustrations and backstory.  As most of it is irrelevant to the players or the plot, I used it for inspiration and freely changed details to make it fit in with my campaign.

Despite the fact that it has a whole city to play in there are only three set encounters outside of the building where the MacGuffin is held.  The city is divided into four parts:
   The western bank of the river Wolfen, which is held by the defenders;
   'No-Man's Land' - those parts of the eastern bank visible to the defenders where the party can be attacked by BOTH sides.
   'Altered States' - those parts of the city devastated by the magical attack that leveled the city walls
   'Utter Mayhem' - everywhere else in the city.
No details are provided for the western bank, the plot quickly rushes the players across the river.

Each type of the area on the east bank has a short list of random encounters, with a 60% chance pf encounter every ten minutes.  I thought that would be far too small of a selection, but in play it turned out that no random encounter was ever repeated.

The action is divided into two scenes to use the Mythic terminology: getting to the City Hall and finding the MacGuffin inside the building.  There's a climactic fight on the roof before the party exits via a balloon.

    The motivations for the two main NPC's are what makes this module so much fun to run.  The adventure starts off with the party trapped in the doomed city and drafted into it's last desperate defense against the horde of mutant Chaos worshipping barbarians.  Their sergeant volunteers them to assist a nun in recovering a Holy Relic from the other side of the river.  Except she's not a real nun she's a cat burglar who's been truing to steal the relic and sees her chance in current situation.  And the sergeant is actually her accomplice. So the party is being used as dupes and meatshields to begin with.

Even better as the horde gathers outside the City Hall, effectively trapping the party, the cat burglar/nun leads the way to the roof where her accomplices are waiting in a balloon to lift the party to safety.

Except the accomplices have decided to double-cross her.

Play report below the jump.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Trapping 101 - Reboot

Looking back at my post on the Portcullis - it blows.  I'm going to start over on the series.  But coherently this time.

The Thief class goes back to Supplement I - Greyhawk in 1976, with the ability to "Disarm Traps".  Note that it didn't address finding them, but it's assumed that you can find them if you can disarm them.  Now when it comes to DMing, I'm the type who needs to think out the descriptions in advance, I suck at making up details on the fly.  So the question I wanted to answer was - when the die roll says they found the trap, what have they actually found?

I doubt that it's a sign that says "TRAP".  Instead it must be something that indicates there's trap there.  They may have found the trap, i.e. the pit trap may be standing open; but it's more likely that what they've actually found is evidence of the trap.  A suspicious patch of floor or an oddly regular hole in the wall.  Or they may have found the trigger mechanism, a trip cord or lever or something.  Or the crushed skull and bones of the last victim.

 So what I did was list the physical evidence you might encounter for a particular type of trap;how it might be triggered and the evidence that the trigger would leave.  That becomes the result of the "Detect Trap" die roll.

In making the lists, I found a serendipitous bonus - many of the traps not only use the same trigger mechanisms, but also are physically similar, so that just describing what they've found does not necessarily let the party know what the trap is.

Analyzing the lists, I came to a few conclusions.  Traps can be categorized by effect, allowing me to weight what type of trap is there.

Channeling - Traps that prevent/require the characters to move along certain paths.  (Chutes, Portcullises)
Deadfalls - Traps that drop something
Pit traps - Holes that things fall into
Spells - Traps that involve magical effects
Weapons - Traps that swing a blade or club or fire a missile

 Reasonable trap and trigger combinations are dependent on the object trapped.  A door could have a pit trap or a poison needle associated with it.  A corridor could have a pit trap, but the poison needle trap doesn't make any sense in that location.

So for each type of object trapped I listed the possible triggers

    Stepping on a lever
    Stepping on a trap
    Pulling a tripwire
    Reading a glyph
    Being observed (command activated)

    Pulling a tripwire
    Reading a glyph
    Being observed (command activated)
    Passing through

    Pulling a tripwire
    Reading a glyph
    Being observed (command activated)

Now that I have all this information I can put together random tables to generate the trap, trigger and what the party observes when they find it.  That will be the subject of my next post on the subject.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Report - Cthulhu in Wonderland

A Pleasant Little Offering

A. Pleasance Liddell on the sanguinary griddle,
bound to the foetid altar tight

Batrachians romp through the tenebrous swamp,
midst cacophonous Polyps in flight

The byakhee wheel in the Reticulated Reel,
dance to the cultists howling fright

Mad little Alice, in the Crimson Queen's palace,
prey to the author's sad delight.

Cthulhu in Wonderland (The Madness of Alice) by Kent David Kelly
  A retelling of Lewis Carroll's masterpiece in the Cthulhu Mythos, which as I recall, the original didn't need much in the way of Lovecraftian prose to make it confusingly verbose. (Why is it whenever I read Lovecraft, I mentally hear it being declaimed by William Shatner?) This love(craft) child of Carroll and the Master mixes both vocabularies freely and without concern for meaning or comprehension by the reader.  It is, as said in Blazing Saddles, 'authentic gibberish', a fun read but only once.

It didn't give me any inspirations for gaming, but it did inspire me to write the doggerel above.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

New Campaign and Mini-Recap

     We started a new campaign this month, and for my sins, I'm back behind the screen. I've taken advantage of my time off to look at how I run the games and decided to make some major changes. Previously I've tried to ensure I had all of the answers to any question my players might ask - down to writing a door generator that told me which side had the hinges. Perhaps my wife is right and I am a bit of a control freak - just a little.

     The campaign concept has been influenced by the soloplay I did (much) earlier this year, using the Mythic game system.  I liked the directed randomness, an odd term but the best way I have to describe it. I also realized that I never have time to do all the preparation I would like before its time to run the adventure, so I need to use modules in addition to anything I create.  Thirdly, I'd like to bring in things from different systems. Many of the bloggers did a post on their gaming bookshelves, showing them overloaded with systems. I'm no different, other than many of mine residing in electronic  format rather than paper.  And the last constraint is that the group is using Pathfinder, so all the mechanics would need to be D20.

     I decided, since I have most of the Warhammer Death on the Reik adventures,  I would use the WFRP setting.  It's much different from the group's standard fantasy setting, in that it has elements of horror and firearms. I'm using the Mythic Fate Chart and Chaos Factor make the setting more 'alive', instead of my usual pre-scripted effort.  And as time goes on I'll bring in monsters and artifacts from other settings.

    I'll do a full recap of the initial session and some lessons learned, but here's the short form.  I found what may be the most awesome published adventure ever in The Nine Virtues of Magnus the Pious, (WFRP 2?) where the characters start in a city in the middle of being sacked - and the situation goes downhill from there.  After taking damage from friendly cannon fire and being chased through town by mutant Mongels, they reached the climactic fight scene on the roof of the City Hall between the thief who had suckered them into helping retrieve the MacGuffin for her and her partner who was double crossing her.  All was going well, too well, they had taken out the doublecrosser who ordered the crew of the balloon to leave as he sank back dying.  The Dwarven Magus decided those guys weren't going to get away and jumped a Flaming Sphere into the basket of the balloon. Neatly destroying the only way for the party to get out of town.

     My initial reaction was to declare a TPK, as I had previously decided that the balloon was filled with hydrogen. However the players convinced me that the Hindenburg would be a better model of the physics of a hydrogen fire than David Weber.  They then chased the survivors into a Chaos Zone, eventually into the local Cathedral of Sigfreid (patron deity of the Empire).  Now at this point, they were so far off the map and out of the adventure script that I had no idea of what they would find or how I would get them out of the city. Especially as the mutants were starting their final assault on the defenders.

  I used the concepts of Mythic and crowd sourced it.  I asked the players what they thought they'd find when they opened the door of the Cathedral.  They decided that they would find the balloonists stuck right at the door.  That was a bit self-serving of them, so I altered the scene to they found the balloonists whirling around and slowly rising out of sight in the middle of the dome.


Authoritative books on magic are extremely rare, although many are known of, such as the Libram of Silver Magic, Nine Books of Nagash and the Necronomicon, in a pre-Gutenburg world they are almost never actually seen.  The books which are found are almost exclusively what are known as 'grimoires', often referred to as 'spell books'. The term 'spell book' is a misnomer, as these grimoires do not provide step by step instructions on how to cast a fireball. Rather they are a combination of research notes and personal journal which a wizard accumulates over their professional life.  Often they contain quotes and paraphrases of passages from the authoritative books, written down in whatever order the author encountered them.  Indeed, the contents of the great works are spread almost solely through these notes.

An arcane magic user who finds a grimoire has a resource to last his lifetime. By studying the notes of his predecessor (and copying extracts into his own grimoire), the magic user increases his own knowledge of the theory and Art of magic.  This provides him with insight to cast new spells.  Because this insight is coming from the synthesis of his current knowledge with the contents of the grimoire the spells learned from the same grimoire may be completely different for different magic users and the abilities of the grimoire's author have no bearing on what a reader may learn from the tome.  A chance turn of phrase in the notes of an apprentice may unlock a powerful spell.

The number of spells a character may learn from a grimoire is 1d4 + Intelligence modifier.

For each spell, roll on the following table to determine the spell level.  The player selects the spell they are trying to learn from the list of spells for that level.  If they succeed in the Spellcraft check, they have added their preferred spell to their spells known. If they fail the check, they learn a random spell of that level.  It takes two weeks of study to learn each spell.

Note that the DC is set so that in Pathfinder, a character which has Spellcraft as a class skill, has maximized their ranks in the skill and have the minimum intelligence to cast the spell have a 50/50 chance of learning their preferred spell.  It follows that a character cannot take 10 or 20 on the Spellcraft check, as the check is to see if the grimoire along with their current knowledge enables them to learn the desired spell.

Characters cannot learn spells of a level higher than they can cast.

Die RollSpell LevelSpellcraft DC

Special: A result of Special indicates that among the entries in the grimoire, the character has found a note about an item or person of interest, such as the true name of a demon; a clue to the powers or location of a legendary artifact; or even a standard treasure map.