keskiviikko 12. lokakuuta 2016

The Underwater Ally

Still doing some (Caribbean) pirate stuff occasionally!

En route to hunt the fabulous treasure of The Great Bonanza, the pirate captain João made a stop at Boca da Pousada, the home town of Aleixo Zadok, one of the crewmembers.

Boca da Pousada was made particular by it's close ties to another town located just a few miles off the coast. And what is particular about the other town is, that where stands, there are no islands. But that hasn't stopped the two communities from trading and intermarrying, leading to the prosperity of Boca da Pousada, as well as it's citizens, among other peculiarities, having very sharp teeth, an appetite for raw meat and rarely bothering to blink. And the only reported downside has been a few cases of fratricide in utero.

In Boca da Pousada, captain João was joined in the treasure hunt by seaman Zadok's cousin, captain Carlinhos Dagon do Tubarão-Y'ha-nthlei da Vanda. Referred to, in dread by seafarers, as "The Devil of the Depths", "Jaws" or simply as "That Fish Called Vanda".

Pictured below is captain Carlinhos da Vanda, with his pet mollusk "Fofo" on his shoulder.


Any similarities to the any writings by a certain Mr. Lovecraft are more than coincidental.

keskiviikko 21. syyskuuta 2016

Bral Noir: A Sonata For A Violin And A Murder

I fell of the Blogosphere for some time, but I'm still here! Bloggin' about a game we played a couple of months ago..

Once again, not everyone from the gaming group could make it, so we played a one night story instead.

Inspired by reading a comic book of the early days of The Beatles by Mauri Kunnas, Terry Pratchett's Soul Music, as well as the (then) recent passing of the great artists David Bowie and the Artist formerly known as Prince, this time it was about rock'n roll. With a healthy dose of political intrigue and murder! Set in a world of wizards and warriors in space!

I offered my 5 players a choice of 6 pre-rolled characters. 4 human bards (a music group representing a radical new style, making their breakthrough), a dwarf fighter-thief (the manager), and a human fighter (the roadie).

The story involved the band waking up in an inn on the morning after a gig only to discover one of them (the character nobody picked) murdered and the local police force hot on their trail with unpleasant questions.

Some of them tried to fight the law (the law won). The rest followed the clues on the murder scene, that suggested that their murdered friend had come chanced across some evidence dangerous to the current regime. Eventually, after a rooftop escape, they found sanctuary with the family of the city's former ruler, presumed murdered by the current prince.

It was a fun game! The best part, at least for me, was just sitting back and listening to the players having fun and acting out clichéd rock star mannerisms. They even came up with full lyrics for a song about their predicament!

The full story can be read here. Sadly, it's incomprehensible gibberish to most people. Not only is it in Finnish, but it's in thick and slightly archaic and very anachronistic Helsinki slang.. What can I say? I loved the language of The Catcher in the Rye. Note: The horizontal line on page four marks the transition from intro to actual gameplay.

Anyhow, some paint jobs related. Below are pictured two examples of the guard of the Rock of Bral. Brave men and women who put their lives on the line on a daily basis to keep the citizens safe from pirates, gangsters, adventurers and popular musics.

The minis are from Wargames Foundry. The fancier sergeant is from their Elizabethan Seadogs and Swashbuclers collection, and the constable from their conquistadors collection named El Dorado Adventurers.

And a close-up of the sergeant's shield. Featured are the arms of the Prince's family, the Crown and Crossed Sabers on the right (top) and the ever-vigilant Owl of the Middle City Watch on the left (bottom).

I promise the next post will be sooner in coming than this one!

lauantai 14. toukokuuta 2016

Bral Noir: The Squid Sematary

Finding a time for a game for several people is tricky. The more people's calendars you try to fit together, the harder it gets, so it's easily a month between games, at least.

And then some gets sick or unexpectedly has to work a night shift. It happens, it's only to be expected.

If you have a character driven story going on, as I try to have, you don't want anyone to miss out. So what do you do, cancel the game and set a new date, so now it's two months between sessions?

What I tried for a solutions, is to prepare a couple of short, parallel stories. The setting is the same, but with different characters. That way, we could play the same game and perhaps I could show the players different sides of the world and the events that characters of the main story wouldn't even be aware of.

The asteroid city of the Rock of Bral would be great for such short stories. The Rock is a veritable crossroads of the spheres, so anything could end up there. With different criminal organizations getting a lot of room in the sourcebook, I felt like going for some pulp detective story -style scenarios. Nothing too serious, of course. This is, after all, wizards and elves in space. On wooden sail ships.

Bral Noir, or Hard Boiled Tales from the Rock's Underworld.

This is also AD&D, so for the first story, which I originally prepared on a short notice, I just generated a small random dungeon using this very handy random dungeon generator. Then I rolled up a couple of characters pretty much randomly, so we wouldn't spend the whole night rolling up stats and choosing skills and spells, and wrote up a short intro as to why some fighters, mages, clerics and thieves would be stuck in an underground complex full of hostile monsters and traps.

The scenario was, that the characters are members of the city watch (plus their street urchin sidekick), investigating the disappearance of a young woman's fiancé. They have found out that a certain illithid is likely to be involved and are lured to investigate the said octopus-headed creature's town house while the thing is out on business.

But their treacherous informant locks them in the basement and as the game begins, they have one hour of in-world time to get out before the illithid returns and is certain to wipe the floor with a group of 1st level characters.

This being a pulp novel, I did a book cover for it to set the mood:

The Squid Sematary (lit. Sleep, Sleep, My Squid)

So basically, it was a classic dungeon with pit traps and (psycho-surgically mind-controlled) random monsters. Half the group got killed by kobolds with paralytic powers and an owl bear before the rest escaped through the sewers, but they managed to save the kidnapped young man.

Read the full story here, if you can (it's in Finnish again). Note: The horizontal line marks the end of the intro and the beginning of game play.

And here's a picture of the master of the house, whom the PCs fortunately never had to face:

And the title? Taken from the Finnish translation for Stephen King's Pet Sematary: Uinu, uinu lemmikkini (lit. Sleep, Sleep My Pet). Because of that, here's a link to a cover of Pet Sematary by The Ramones, as performed by the finnish band Pojat:

Chorus: "To a bewitched boneyard, I took the best of cats. Tonight he will come back,"

perjantai 29. huhtikuuta 2016

The 7th Sphere: Book One: The Secret Of The Laughing Cobra: Chapter Two: The Baroness

Full Finnish text of this AD&D 2e Spelljammer session here.

After making a deal with an art collecting wizard to procure the portrait of the pirate captain Gabarra, our heroes set out to the painting's new owner's mansion on a tiny asteroid near the asteroid city of the Rock of Bral.

There they found the baroness Marfont-Drabek living in an odd tower on a small rock with an orchard, accompanied by a family of gnomes.

Most of the session was spent by the players coming up with plans to steal, rob or cheat the painting for themselves using forgeries or illusionary buyers until finally deciding on walking in and starting to haggle. The negotiations were rocky until, following Chandler's Law, a band of cutthroats-for-hire, who had been shadowing the heroes earlier, boarded the tower.

The game concluded in a short swordfight, in which the players' ship's mate, a gliding ape or a hadozee, almost singlehandedly annihilated the attackers and caught a glimpse of their mysterious, black clad  leader, as the rest of the brigands made their getaway.

The baroness was still not willing to sell the portrait, but the PC's valiant defense of her tower made her ask for their assistance in researching the portrait's background and any secrets it might hold.

The minis of this post: Baroness Jeannette Marfont-Drabek (from Foundry), holding a magic wand, accompanied by her faithful servant, the gnome fighter Jorziver Nesmor (from Reaper):

perjantai 15. huhtikuuta 2016

The 7th Sphere: Book One: The Secret Of The Laughing Cobra: Chapter One: The Collector

An account of our second Spelljammer session, played quite a while ago, as a pdf here. In Finnish, again, sorry.

After surviving the pirate attack last time, our merry crew arrived back in their home port on the asteroid city of the Rock of Bral. The space town is detailed in the TSR source book by the same name.

In short, it's a busy space port on an asteroid. It used to be a pirate haven, but now the town is a hub of interstellar commerce and diplomacy, ruled by a monarchic prince who maintains a balance of power between nobles, merchant companies, foreign powers and organized crime.

My main inspiration for how the Rock of Bral should feel came from Ankh-Morpork of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. But also Point Central of Mézières' and Christin's Valerian comics and probably dozens of other, subconscious sources.

Now back in the dock, running low on cash, the spacefarers' learn that ship repairs are extremely expensive. They do a bit of information gathering and haggling, find lodgings at the ship's previous owner's, the father of one of the character's, new inn and receive a business proposition. The proposition comes from a mage, a mini-dragon breeder and an art collector fond of titles, who had invested in the character's ship in return for a collection of objets d'art, now sadly lost in the pirate attack. The mage offers to waive their debt and pay for the ship's repairs, in exchange for a portrait of a pirate captain by a famous artist, recently acquired by a competing art collector.

I really hadn't anticipated how much gaming time it would take for these things to happen. The plot hardly moved at all. But I hope that I managed to create a mood that people enjoyed, because RPGs are definitely about the journey, not about getting there.

The mini of the post, the art collector Quinten Galashiel, Magus Magnus Tertius Ex Universitas Selüniensis, a captain of the Fireball Alliance, Grand Master of the Order of the Cup of Bral:

perjantai 8. huhtikuuta 2016

Of Rules And Language, With Space Pirates

Of Rules

Spelljammer is by no means a realistic setting. I have no trouble with open-decked sail ships flying in space, dragging their atmospheric air bubbles along with them. But there are a couple of details that I've never liked.

The first thing is that the speed of a space ship (spelljammer) is determined by the type of the magical helm power source and the level of the spellcaster at the helm (spelljammer). Therefore any fleet would put the more powerful helms and helmsmen on the biggest ships, and therefore the bigger the ship, the faster it is more likely to be.

That's fine, except I want to see space battles between big, heavy capital ships and fast, light ships employing hit-and-run tactics. So I changed the rules so that the speed of a ship, or ship rating (SR) is calculated based on helm, helmsman, ship size, ships maneuverability class (MC, reflecting better ship designs being inherently faster) and also crew skill because I want them also to be more important.

The SR is calculated as follows: 1-10 points for helmsman and helm or furnace, etc., as per the official SR-tables + 1-6 points for MC + 1-10 points for tonnage + 1-4 points for crew status for a total of 4-30 points then divided by 3, rounding down, for the SR.

Helmsman Caster Level
Minor Helm
Major Helm

SR Points
91 – 100
81 – 90
71 – 80
61 – 70
51 – 60
41 – 50
31 – 40
21 – 30
11 – 20
1 - 10

Crew Status
SR Points

SR Points
Secondly, I think the ships were just too fast in tactical speeds. 1 SR is now equal to ~3 knots (12 movement rate) with 1 hex  being ~100 yards instead of 500 yards. Ships are now noticeably slower, moving at 5.5 – 55 km/h as opposed to the speeds of 30 – 300 km/h of the official SRs. 

Now with speeds still above that of sail ships but closer to them, and smaller distances in combat, it’s not quite as absurd to hit a boat moving at 55 km/h with a ballista bolt from the distance of 800 m than a boat moving at 300 km/h from a distance of 2 km with no negative modifiers to the shot. Also, very importantly, even the slowest ships can no longer easily outrun any attacking monsters, so dragons and such are once more a threat.

My third issue was with the non-magical engines mentioned in the Spelljammer rule book. The problem was that they were very sketchy. How do they work? Do they need fuel? How much? What would the fuel cost? Why isn’t every groundling nation using fleets of these steam-punky things?

My solutions was that now ships designed and built for space travel can use their sails to move in zero gravity environments at tactical speeds, using the solar winds or vacuum energy or some such thing. Still pretty vague, but it eliminates the "engines" and adds the sights and sounds of small boats setting off along the gravity plane from an asteroid city before the break of dawn to return with their catch of space fish.

Yes, with monsters like this, there are bound to be smaller fish swimming around in the void.

Note that beating gravity requires a magical power source, so helms and furnaces are still a must for planetary landings, as well as for interplanetary travel.

Unpowered ships are of course slower, naturally getting no points for the helm and helmsman with an additional MC -1 affecting the total SR raw points recalculated without the helm points, an additional -1 to the recalculated SR, and an additional +1 penalty to initiative.

Example: A 18 ton, MC D Wasp with a minor helm, a level 6 wizard as helmsman and a trained crew gets +2 points for helmsman and helm, +9 points for tonnage, +3 points for crew status and +3 points for MC for total of 17 points for a SR of 5. Their initiative is -1. If they lost their helmsman, they could still sail with +9 points for tonnage, +3 points for crew status and +2 points for their MC-1 of E for a total of 14 points for a SR of 4-1 = 3. Their initiative would be +0.
For now I'm happy with the system, but I realize there some issues. It is a bit complicated as it requires calculations in advance to keep the game flowing. Also, I still haven't thought of ships bigger than 100 tons nor of the inevitable situation where the helmsman wants to go in a different direction than the crew..

Of Language

In case there are some Finnish speakers reading my game reports I'd like explain some of my word choices. I aim at running the game as much as possible in Finnish and avoid using obviously English words. The main reason is, that we hear and read English all the time (and I'm writing in English now, obvs.) so, while being a foreign language it is no longer foreign enough to my ears and using English words breaks the flow of language without evoking the sense of the exotic.

So it's 'haltia' instead of 'elf', but in some cases I would be cool with the related German word 'Alb', because it's less familiar to me.

The big problem was the word 'spelljammer', used to refer both to the spaceships as well as the spellcasters guiding and powering them. The word is obviously derived from 'windjammer' but in the dictionaries the Finnish translation for 'windjammer' is literally 'large sailship', not very useful.

As for the etymology of 'windjammer', the explanations I found were that it refers to multitude of sails on a windjammer 'jamming' the wind (like jamming a radar, not like jamming strawberries). So I came up with the word 'loitsukaappari', (lit. something like 'spellseizer') for how the ships seize magic to power their movement. It has added benefit of evoking piratey imagery because the Finnish word for 'privateer' is 'kaappari'.

I did find one alternate translation, 'tuulennaukuja', literally 'windmeower' (you know, how a cat sounds), explained to be a reference to the sound of the wind in the large area of sails on a windjammer. When talking these terms over with my players, the word 'loitsunnaukuja' also gained some support, so I've been using both terms interchangeably.

For the people spelljammers, I just went with the word 'ruorimies', lit. 'helmsman'.

Another problematic word was 'demi-human'. AD&D uses 'demi-human' to refer to the core human-like-not-human races, i.e. elves, dwarves, gnomes and halflings. Strictly it would translate to 'puoli-ihminen', lit. 'half-human'. But then you also have half-elves, who are by definition also half-humans. And I thought it would be useful to have a blanket term for both humans and demi-humans as opposed to other groups, such as goblinoids, podocephalic humanoids, hippopotamus bipedalis or sphaira polyophtalmos. Eventually I settled for a dialectic word for human ('ihminen'), 'ihmoinen' (I don't know, 'humon' in english?).

One word that was particularly fun was the space fish 'scavver' -> 'scavenger' -> 'haaskaeläin' -> 'haaskakala' -> 'haaskala'.

Of Space Pirates

For those of you who don't like too much text on blogs and would just like to see pictures, finally, here are some space pirates:

I took a break from painting pirates to paint some space pirates. Who are just like regular pirates. Except in space. Go figure.

maanantai 4. huhtikuuta 2016

My DM Project: The 7th Sphere: Book One, The Secret Of The Laughing Cobra: The Prologue: The Wasp

In case someone recalls, I once mentioned working on DMing a AD&D 2nd ed. Spelljammer campaign. Well, it took a while, with real life, as usual, interfering with important stuff like pretending to be on a wooden sailship in space.

But now we have been able to play a couple of sessions, and I think it is now safe to post some of the stuff I have done spelljammer-wise, without giving away spoilers to my players.

The first session was going to be plain and simple about the players, sailing their space ship, getting attacked by space pirates and having to fight them off.

What happened is described in detail in this pdf. It's in finnish because it's here first and foremost for the benefit of my players. But go ahead and run it through a translator or embrace this wonderful opportunity to start studying the veritable lingua franca that is the finnish language..

But in short:

We had rolled up the characters earlier, and my players came up with background for their characters on the premise that they would be commanding a small merchant vessel.

The stuff they came up with was pure gold, and with just little bit of elaboration on my part, it was established that one of the characters had inhereted the ship that her grandfather had used for piracy, and then her father had to turned to peaceful commerce when law and order had made piracy a less popular option in their corner of space.

The other characters had either inherited shares from the aforementioned grandfather's crew members or had bought a share after the first characters family had run into financial trouble when the father lost a valuable cargo, his crew and his health to starvation when the ship was trapped in a sargasso, an area of space void of magic, where faster-than-light travel (at the speed of magic, naturally) was impossible.

Now returning from their first mercantile voyage of acquiring goods to sell on, they were returning to their home city on one of the asteroids in the asteroid field trailing the moon of their solar system's main planet. As the game opened, their ship was fired upon by a pirate ship and struck by a D.E.M.* -class magical shot, setting their cargo hold on fire.
*Deus Ex Machina

After an intense dogfight the players drove off the pirates. Being PCs, they used tactics I could never have anticipated. In this case, dropping their burning cargo on the pirates through a dimension door and augmenting the effect with an illusion spell of  even more flames, shattering the spacehighwaymen's morale.

A bit of a cheap shot, destroying their cargo arbitrarily, but it established the set-up I was going for: A group of low-level characters, slightly more likely to barter with people instead of just robbing everyone, in possession of a exceedingly valuable, magical transport but still in urgent need of cash.

But enough about the story and on with the minis, this being primarily a miniature blog. The PCs were going to meet a groundling cog, outfitted for magical space travel and out of the choice of suitably sized ships I had presented, my players had opted for the wasp (which they named Blackie Lawless):

From The Spelljammer: AD&D Adventures In Space Boxed Set, TSR 1989

From The War Captain's Companion, TSR 1992

The Spelljammer boxed set came with cardboard cut-out ships to use for ship-to-ship combat, but I, being me, just had make some minis out of greenstuff, wire and paper.

The colours are blank, still waiting for a design.

A battle among the asteroids (just bits of gravel slightly shaded).

The biggest regular ships in the game have a keel lenght of 300', and the hex map from the boxed set has hexes of 25mm, edge to edge. To fit even the bigger ships on the map, I originally aimed for a scale of 10':1 mm. The wasp has a keel lenght of 80' so it would have been 8 mm long. Needless to say, that is way too tiny for my sculpting skills, and it is now 16 mm long. I reckon my boats aren't going to be to scale. Especially when the smallest ship in the canon, the elven flitter, has a keel length of 20', translating to a 2 mm speck. Here is a comparison shot with a 28 mm scale human:

Bartolomeu had managed to stay sober for two whole days. But when the little ships came, he decided it was time to jump off the wagon again.

It was a fun night of gaming, giving me a feel for the personalities of the PCs and a chance to try out the changes I've made to the ship rules, on which I shall elaborate in future posts.