Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Magnificent Samurai: Session 2

I ran the Magnificent Samurai this past Sunday.  I had to call it an hour or so early because I had a headache so we didn't get as much done.


  • Augustus Scitiori - A former centurion, and a dual-weapon master of shortswords.
  • Catonio, a Catfolk Swashbuckler searching for the Six Fingered Man who killed his parents.
  • Eliot de la Frau - A Saber-master and pirate.
  • Erland - a Jotun wrestler.
  • Markus - A Hobgoblin Paladin of the God of Chivalry.
  • Melek - a Nephilim (half-angel) greatswordsman and user of Imbuements.
  • Tonokai - a Kazanjiman horse-archer (but not technically a Samurai as she has no Status.)
Plus, Sir-Not-Appearing-At-This-Session:
  • Gortak, a Jotun master of the Greatsword.

The Final Battle of the Bandit Keep

The group reformed inside the gates and Eliot set the two cannon up facing the courtyard, and reloaded them.  The keep was a motte-and-bailey style construction, an outer keep surrounding a central tower, so he set them up where each had a line-of-fire into the "alleys" created by the outer and inner walls.

On the tower, an archer in red appeared, and took a potshot at Tonokai, who fired back.  They had an archer's duel for a few seconds while two groups of six dueling-halberd wielding mooks approached.  (Players: "Why don't they have Chinese weapons?"  Me: "These have tassels!" My real intention was for an eastern style polearm but I forgot to look up the names beforehand.)

Eliot shot his grapeshot at group #1; two of them fell, two were hit but their scale armor soaked the damage, and two were missed.  Around this time, Tonokai failed a Dodge and was struck, taking a big hit that reduced her to 0 HP, but a good HT score kept her around and kicking, passing both her Unconsciousness and Stun check.  Erland charged the survivors of Group #1, while Augustus and Markus followed him, and I decided at that point to use a Mob Rule for groups of unimportant enemies: only one would attack at a time, the others doing that martial art movie standard of waving their weapons around uselessly.  I'd never do that in a normal campaign, but in an all-fighters game the unarmed guys deserve their fun, and in my opinion it's anticlimactic for the wrestler to get chopped into mincemeat while trying to handle number 1 out of 4.  I will say he did make good use of cover while he was approaching, so he wasn't charging forward blindly.

While this was going on, a maul-wielding Rhinoman in Scale armor used Flying Leap to appear in a knot of PCs.  He was scary: a SM 1 opponent with a SM 1 Maul and Weapon Master, or 4d+15 crushing damage with Reach 1-3*.  I even had him do Defensive Attacks so he could retain his Parry and he was still doing 4d+7.  Unfortunately for him, Melek scored a Critical Hit on him on the turn he showed up, so he was down to just over 1/2 his starting HP from the get-go.

Eliot fired his remaining cannon at the Rhinoman, but his armor + tough skin soaked all the damage.  Melek and the Rhinoman tied up for a few turns, the Rhinoman using his superior reach to force Committed Attacks by attacking and stepping back.  Two more elite polearm guys also leapt (flyingly!) into the fray, attacking both Markus and Augustus.  A third actually failed his Flying Leap roll so he was held in reserve for three turns while he concentrated again.  This actually ended up hurting the PCs, as he leapt into Augustus's blind spot and hit him in the Vitals.  Augustus then failed his Stun Check by more than 5 and was out.

Tonokai made HT her rolls for the entire fight (HT 13 + Fit was a very good decision) to remain active.  She stopped shooting at the Archer and took out some of the mooks and made some good shots at the elite guys and a few of the mooks.  Bad luck kept Catonio tied up with a couple of mooks; I kept rolling 5s and 6s for one of their defense rolls.

  Melek ended up getting hit, hard, as did Markus, so they were also making consciousness checks, but the PCs eventually wore down their foes and won.  Eliot hit the Rhinoman in the armpit and took him to half Move and Dodge, one of the elites got grappled, and it was over at that point.  Eliot Lizard Climbed to the Red Archer's position and the Red Archer tried to flee, but he failed an Acrobatics roll to gracefully swing away on a rope and instead hit the ground hard.   They spent a few turns brawling in the dirt until Eliot punched him in the face and he went out.

The fight being over, they took the prisoners and loot to Mr. Han's and I called it there.  This was a fight with some serious opponents and the party did good to get a victory here.  I will note they hired on a healer priestess immediately after this, as half the group being out for weeks wouldn't be much fun.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Magnificent Samurai: Session 1

We played the first session of The Magnificent Samurai yesterday.  I think this campaign is going to be fun, but it's going to be a bit of an adjustment for me, in having 250-point badass warriors right from the start.


From Session 0, we have:
  • Augustus Scitiori - A former centurion, and a dual-weapon master of shortswords.
  • Elliot de la Frau - A Saber-master and pirate.
  • Erland - a Jotun wrestler.
  • Markus - A Hobgoblin Paladin of the God of Chivalry.
  • Melek - a Nephilim (half-angel) greatswordsman and user of Imbuements.
  • Tonokai - a Kazanjiman horse-archer (but not technically a Samurai as she has no Status.)
Plus, two characters were finished yesterday:
  • Catonio, a Catfolk Swashbuckler searching for the Six Fingered Man who killed his parents.  This character is basically a cross between Puss-in-Boots from Shrek plus Inigo Montoya.
  • Gortak, a Jotun master of the Greatsword and fellow-tribesman of Erland.

Mr. Han's Noodle Shop

Play began in Mr. Han's, the biggest and best noodle shop in the town of Muyang.  A number of travelers from strange and foreign lands just happened to be sat at the same table on the upper floor (where, coincidentally, their barbarian customs and use of forks wouldn't offend the regulars.)  They heard a crash below, and looking down saw Mr. Han being shaken down by dozen thugs.  The entire group headed down to check on things, and combat initiated quickly on a failed Intimidate roll, and the group so quickly defeated the thugs none of them even had time to act.

Mr. Han invited the party upstairs, and told them about the Red Turban bandits, his tormentors and a group who started as one of the last remaining bands whose rebellion broke up the Yu Empire.  He spoke flawlessly in several Western tongues, and told the group about his youthful adventures in the West as a pirate.  He offered the party the last of his pirate silver ($4,000) if they could deal with the Red Turbans for him.  On a lark, Catonio asked him if he'd ever encountered a six-fingered man, and Mr. Han told him of the Bales, a hidden race of living vampires with six digits. The party asked for a guide and Mr. Han told his grandson to show them the way.

The Lady of the River

Leaving the city and travelling a couple of hours, the party encountered a woman playing music (on an eastern variant of a lyre) on a stone in the middle of a fast-flowing river.  Everyone but Tonokai had to make a Will roll, with two of them failing.  They were drawn to the lady and a fight began.  

Both Swashbucklers made a running jump to leap to the stone, being just within reach.  Eliot, unfortunately, slipped on approach (missing an Acrobatics check) but was able to make a Climbing roll to grab the rock and avoid falling completely into the water and getting swept away.  On shore, Melek drove his horse into the water, and three tentacles of water reached out and grabbed the horse.  The party's weapons weren't doing much until Markus hit them with his enchanted broadsword.  Once two tentacles were severed, the "lady" deflated to a robe containing a strange human-shaped skin and the last tentacle fled.  A First Aid roll showed them that it likely wasn't actual human skin.

Farmers, Fish, and Rice

Continuing on, the party encountered a group of five men eating rice and fish at a campfire off the road.  They were discussing a recent murder in their home village, the accused being one of their nephews.  The consensus among them was that the boy either didn't do it, or the young woman was a fox-spirit so it didn't count.  Markus went away from the group to check the roads and made a critical success on a Sense Dark Powers roll, getting a vision of a tall, thin man in a leather robe, wearing the hat and mask of a plague doctor, and carrying a meat hook and scalpel.  Tonokai and Gortak searched the area, and found a bloody meat hook and skinning knife buried in a shallow pit off the road near where Markus had the vision.

The Standing Stone and the Bandit Keep

The party took a left at the Standing Stone, a locally-famous mysterious rock carved with strange symbols.  Erland and Gortak thought the symbols sort of looked like the runes of their homeland, but were definitely a different language.

Scouting out the keep, Tonokai reported that the Red Turbans had 20' fortifications, two small cannons at the gates, and a clearing up front that made for a clear field of fire.  The group elected for a stealthy approach, sending Catonio, Eliot, and Tonokai to climb the walls while the rest of the group would keep to the trees and make a distraction.  One cannon was fired, missing the distractors, and the assault team climbed the wall and quickly occupied the tower with the unfired cannon, and then killed the occupants of the second tower.  Eliot and Catonio spent 5 turns opening the gate while Tonokai rained down arrow-y death on the bandits below (Heroic Archer and Weapon Master (Bow) are a hell of a combination.)  A group of fully armored guards came up and launched a couple of rockets at her to no avail.

Unfortunately for Tonokai, NINJAS! are a thing.  A sneaky little goblin git stabbed her in the kidneys from behind, scoring a Major Wound on her, but she made her HT-5 check and wasn't stunned.  She was perched on the edge of the tower, so on his next turn he attempted a Karate-based Shove to knock her off.  She parried him with Judo and on her next turn did a Judo Throw to send him over, instead.  Eliot, being a Mighty Pirate, fired the loaded cannon at the survivors in the courtyard.  They sent up a flare then surrendered. This ended the session.

All in all, this was fun.  Coming up with challenges that aren't just bigger numbers is going to be interesting, and I don't want to overuse magic, as I'd like to keep that kind of thing on the level of swords-and-sorcery challenges a-la Conan or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.

Sense Dark Powers

Finally, here's a bonus writeup of Markus's Sense Dark Powers ability.  I chose to make the Critical Success rolled give him a vision instead of distance and direction, sort of like a critical success on Seeker.

Sense Dark Powers, 8 points

You can feel the presence of unholy supernatural powers. The GM will make a Perception roll when you’re near an evil power, or when you cross into an area of unholy sanctity.  You know the exact distance and direction on a critical success, otherwise you only know it to be near.

You may purchase an Acute Sense for this ability (2/level).

Modifiers: Holiness, the Range modifier from the Speed/Range table.

Statistics: Detect (Evil Supernatural Powers, Occasional; Reflexive, +40%; Vague, -50%; Holy, -10%; -20%). 8 points.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Primary Sources in Fantasy Gaming

I always liked the distinction in the study of history between primary and secondary sources.  Primary sources being, of course, stuff people actually wrote down at the time, and secondary sources being stuff written about the primary sources.  It's a useful distinction.   I've been thinking lately about applying the same sort of division to RPGs.  In a way, I think I sort of do this already, but analyzing my own habits can't hurt (right?)


There's a distinction to be made between directly useful gaming materials and inspirational materials used to spark ideas, or settings, or plots.  The primary gaming material sources are going to be materials written for the system itself.  So, since I run GURPS, that means published GURPS books and Pyramid magazine.

Secondary gaming material sources would then be anything else related to gaming: homebrew stuff by other GURPS GMs, published material for other systems, or homebrew materials by non-GURPS GMs.

These sort of primary sources are about the game itself and how to play it.  It's pretty obvious that these are important, so I don't think I have to discuss them much.

Books, Myths, and Stories

My "primary sources" for inspiration are myths, stories, and books in the appropriate genre.  I'm focused on fantasy books for fantasy games here, since that's what I enjoy running the most, but for a sci-fi campaign sci-fi books would be primary sources.  For fantasy games, regardless of how finely you slice the genre (epic fantasy, fairy tale fantasy, dark fantasy, romantic fantasy, etc.) myths are going to be a primary source because they're still told or read about, and they form a sort of intellectual backdrop to the whole fantasy genre.

Secondary sources for inspiration are films and books that are from other genres, and published adventures that aren't what you're running.  I was reading Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest for the first time last week, and I could see how bits of it could be used as events and inspiration for characters, even though it was wildly outside of fantasy.

Inspiration is the important bit for me, because sometimes I think the fantasy RPG genre is a bit too self-contained.  In other words, we run games with plots and inspiration from other games rather than from myths and fantasy books, and this is the wrong approach for me.  I'm not about to make the claim I don't use materials from other games (though I don't use adventures), but I am of the opinion it's best to look at the classics of the genre, the primary sources as I would have it: Conan, Elric, Tolkien, Dunsany's stories, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, or myths and fairy tales for inspiration because these have stood a longer test of time.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Magnificent Samurai: Session 0

I ran a session this past Sunday, but it ended up being a pre-campaign character generation session.  We normally try to have everyone's character ready before a session but sometimes things keep that from happening.

This campaign will be set in the Yu ("Jade") Empire, my gameworld's equivalent of China.  The empire is currently between dynasties in an era inspired by the Three Kingdoms, which I had just read.  This has required some world-building on my part, as I have an idea of what's in the region but until now I never mapped it out in detail.  I enjoy the worldbuilding anyway and it's nice to have a chance to flesh things out.  On the names, I tend to be bad at naming things so I used Google Translate to come up with something in most cases unless I have prior notes; none of us speak any of the languages anyway so it works fine, though a native Chinese speaker would probably spend too much time giggling to pay attention.  So it goes.

The local nations are the Yu Empire, currently broken up into the kingdoms of Wu, Weishan ("false"), and Jiaotang ("chapel"), and the campaign will be taking part in the White River Valley in Weishan.  The Korea-esque land is called Koryo, which is relatively peaceful at the moment.  Northwest of it, and between Yu and Koryo is Gabrook, the Green Kingdom, "Gabrook" being a name that comes from Yrth and in my games is the original homeland of the Goblins of Banestorm.  There is, of course, a Japan-like land called  Kazanjima ("volcanic island") so ninjas can have a place to ninj.  The barbarian lands of Meng ("mongol") have horse-nomads, including the only Orcs in the region, unique in my gameworld as being horse-riders; Western Orcs see horses as meals on hooves.

This is an all-fighters game by the request of the players.  It's 250 points, and cinematic in tone.  The PCs who've been completed so far are:

  • Augustus Scitiori - A former centurion from the Ladine Republic, heavily armored and a dual-weapon master of shortswords;
  • Elliot de la Frau - A Saber-master and pirate who's a bit farther from the coast than he would prefer;
  • Erland - a Jotun (northern Giant) wrestler who dearly wants to rip someone's arm off and beat them with it (and possibly could at that);
  • Markus - A Hobgoblin Paladin of Athar, Western God of Chivalry and a holdover from the last campaign, as he was 236 points and well-equipped;
  • Melek - a Nephilim (half-angel) greatswordsman and user of Imbuements.  Another PC from the last campaign, he was only 150 points and had only been played as-is in one session so I let his player bump him to 250, as his equipment was still more-or-less starting quality.
  • Tonokai - a Kazanjiman horse-archer and pretty darn good at it, I estimate.

This leaves 2 PCs to be created and, which I find amusing, ONE PC so far who's native to the area.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Review: Pyramid 3-90: After the End

Today's review is the April Pyramid, which offers more support for the new After the End books.  It's good to see so much coming out for a fresh line.

"Are We Not Men?" by Jason "PK" Levine

The first article is an expansion of After the End 1's mutant powers.  There are both new abilities and some discussion of a few the that were already described in AtE1.  There are some neat abilities in here, and barring a full book of "After the End X: Power-ups" a Pyramid article is probably the best vehicle to add these.  Some of the abilities in here are a bit more "comic book rubber science" instead of "B-movie rubber science," but for my part there aren't any I wouldn't use in a game that had mutant powers in the first place.

Grade: B+.  A solid article with some neat abilities in it.

"Robots After the End" by Roger Burton West

This article is a quick rundown of how to use GURPS Reign of Steel as a setting book for After the End campaigns.  I consider Reign of Steel one of the best GURPS settings ever, so this was definitely a good article to include.  A GM has lots to consider and work on in doing conversions of the 3rd edition material, and anything helps.  My only objection is that this one could have been longer, but what's here is really good.

Grade: A-.  An excellent but short article.

"Eidetic Memory: The Mercy Dolls" by David Pulver

This article presents an After the End setting, a post-plague world which includes lots of elements of AtE goodness: mutants, radiation, robots, and a depopulated Earth.  If I was to run a post apocalyptic game I could see myself using this setting, or at the least drawing inspiration from it.  The Mercy-bots themselves are definitely an element you could lift wholesale for another setting and throw in without much difficulty.

Grade: B.  A generally interesting setting, and I'd probably use bits of it even though I'd likely create my own background.

"Warping Monsters Into Mutants" by Peter Dell'Orto

A short piece on using Dungeon Fantasy Monsters in an After the End game.  This is probably a good idea, as DF has a fairly large stable of beasties to use, though changing the magical background out is really a matter for long consideration.  My own instinct would be to use material from other post-apocalyptic RPGs first, but it's definitely easier to convert stuff over from another GURPS sub-line.

Grade: B-.  Useful notes, and there's nothing I really disagree with in it.

"Survival at the End" by Christopher R. Rice

This is an expansion or reworking of Survival, and I like the random Survival Skill Modifiers table at the beginning.  There's a lot of information for a high-detail survival approach, but personally I like the low-detail approach from After the End 2 more.  The reduced die-rolls per day in that suit me better.  Since it clashes with my own style I wouldn't use it, but I will say that doesn't make it a bad article and if you prefer a more highly detailed approach to Survival it will prove useful to you.

Grade: C.  A good article in general but not personally useful.

"Random Thought Table: The Aftermath Protocol" by Steven Marsh

A scenario which I could describe as "After the End: After Harder," it presents the threat of an almost-apocalypse the PCs might be in the right place at the right time to stop.  Or facilitate.  It's a decent outline and could be fleshed out to an interesting adventure.

Grade:  B-.  A scenario that could be thrown in to most AtE settings that involve nukes.

Final Grade: B.  A good issue, with the traditional mix of short and longer articles. There were a couple that could have been longer but I liked it overall and all the articles were thematic.