Tag Archives: Role-playing

Inspired In Japan – The Katana

Inspired in Japan

The Japanese sword known as the katana is a symbol of a time, a people and of beautiful yet deadly efficiency. Let’s rip open what makes the katana such a remarkable weapon, explore the essence and myth that surrounds it and slice a path to inspire more depth from this weapon in your own role-playing campaign.

 

The History

The katana was the traditional sword of the samurai. It developed from the tachi sword, which is similar but worn with the cutting edge down, while the katana was worn with the cutting edge up, and could be kept tucked in the sash (obi) around a samurai’s waist. The katana could be quickly drawn and a deadly cut made in a single, fluid motion. In fact, forms of martial arts, iaido and iaijitsu, were developed around this principle.

Samurai with tachi
Samurai wearing a tachi.

The katana was traditionally worn with a wakizashi, which was a shorter sword used for enclosed spaces or as an off-hand weapon. While a samurai might put aside his katana, for instance when inside a residence, he would always keep his wakizashi. The katana and wakizashi together were called daisho, and were the samurai’s badge of rank.

 

The Making

The strength of the katana comes from the duel forging technique used to make the blade. On the outside of the blade you have a harder metal, which can better hold a sharp edge, while on the inside you have a springy metal that makes the whole blade less brittle. Parries and blocks were performed with the side or back of the blade to keep the cutting edge sharp. I won’t go into the whole process forging process here, but Wikipedia has a great page on Japanese swordsmithing that will give you plenty of information.

Basically tamahagane, the raw iron ore, is heated to about 1300 °C and then hammered and folded into shape. Once the blade has been shaped it is quenched (yaki-ire) using clay, charcoal and powdered whetstone as a mask over the cutting edge as it is dipped in water. It is this process that gives the blade its beautiful wave like pattern and different tempering. The blade is then sharpened and signed.

 

The Purpose

The katana was made with one purpose in mind: killing. However, as time passed, and the samurai spent less time on the battle field and more time in court, the swords became more ornate, a status symbol rather than a practical weapon.

Every aspect of the sword had some etiquette. Preserving the carbon rich blade from rust and the safe handling and use of the blade were all important. There was a culture to the sword that I think is hard for us to understand in our “want it now” culture. Your sword was with you always, it was kept clean, respected and known intimately. It was your life, your death, your rank, your mark of society and affected how people perceived you and the manners they showed you.

 

The Essence

It’s not surprising then that the katana was seen by the samurai to have its own spirit. For a samurai, his katana was both an important piece of equipment and a symbol of his own life. At his waist an ever present reminder that death could come quickly and brutally.

 

The Katana in Your Campaign

If your character weilds a katana, take a moment to think about what the sword means to your character. Is it something to depend on when enemies close in? Is it a thing of beauty? Do those who see such a weapon being worn immediately form an opinion of the wearer? What is the history of the weapon and is there any culture surrounding it?

If you’re a GM you can ask many of the same questions. Stat’s wise a katana might not be that much more powerful than any other sword, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be as awesome as it should be. Build a history and culture around it in your campaign world and see where it gets you. As an idea to start you off here are six random sword histories and six random cultural ideas for the katana.

 

Katana Histories – Random Table (D6)

  1. The Bear Claw: this sword’s scabbard (saya) is covered in bear fur, and was the possession of an unknown samurai who opposed the lord of a neighbouring kingdom. It is said he approached the lord while the lord was travelling though a mountain pass and addressed himself as Father Bear, “ready to serve justice with his shining bear claw.”
  2. Dragons Tear: this silver and gold blade was discovered lying on the palace floor besides the head of Fin Fiyang, an ancient gold dragon. To this day no one knows who his murderer was or to whom the sword belonged.
  3. Arrow Biter: this plain katana was used by a warrior who fell defending his lord from arrows of the enemy. When he fell he was surrounded by dozens of halved arrows he had slashed in his desperate defence .
  4. The Emperors Sorrow: this blade is covered in an ancient inscription, foretelling the death of the king. It is not known if the king has any knowledge of the blade or what he would do if he found out about it.
  5. The Rolling Thunder: something in the construction of this blade has resulted in a loud rumbling sound every time the weapon is drawn.
  6. The Dragonfly: this katana has a brown saya with fittings representing dragonflies. Rumour has it that it belonged to a lord who requested it’s construction to appease a water-fey who lived within his lands.

 

Katana Cultural Ideas – Random Table (D6)

  1. It is considered impolite to comment on someone’s katana, so much so that polite phrases such as “may I relieve you of your burden” have taken on new meaning.
  2. If a katana is broken then ancient law states that the sword must be recast into a single iron bowl and the owner of the sword should only ever eat from that bowl for the rest of his life.
  3. The katana is such a venerated weapon that it is unlawful for any peasant to even touch such a weapon.
  4. City law has it that weapons must be put aside when entering a tavern. However, a loop hole exists for the katatana, due to a passed mayor of the city wishing to impress a visiting samurai lord. Unfortunately, as legend tells, he fell foul of his own law and was assassinated by one of the samurai’s retainers.
  5. Newly forged katana blades are kept in a local temple for a year for purposes of purification.
  6. Silvered katana blades are prohibited in the area, a recent law. Meanwhile, there are growing suspicions that members of the court are involved in some type of night sport involving hunting game, and sometimes the waifs of the city.

 

Some L33T Facts

Just because I generally find it funny when I see anyone trying to handle a katana, here are some quick expert facts as a bonus:

  • If it’s at your side or in a belt, the blade should be held up.
  • You’d never touch the cutting edge, that’s moronic.
  • You keep your thumb on the tsuba (hand guard), to keep the blade in the saya (scabbard).
  • A katana can split a bullet, but not a tank.

 

I’m indebted to all those who have taken the time to teach me about Japanese swords and their related martial arts, both in dojo’s around South Africa and in Japan. Much of the limited research done was from Wikipedia or “Introduction to Japanese Swords through Pictures” by the All Japan Swordsmith Association, with additional research done at the Tokyo National Museum. Their collection of nihonto has been the best collection I have ever seen. If you enjoyed this article and would like to hear more about other Japanese weapons, or even European or African weapons, please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Inspired In Japan – Role Playing a Year After The Big One

Inspired in Japan

While contemplating the difference between “role-play”, “roleplay” and “role play” I came across an interesting bit of trivia. In Japan, RPG means a digital role-playing game, while pencil and paper RPG’s are known as TRPG’s or “table-talk role-playing games”.

Role-playing in Japan is an interesting phenomenon. They had their own boom, have their own games and enjoyed some of the games we know well in the west, such as GURP’s and Dungeons and Dragons. There are even companies like Aurora Models who make miniatures and dungeon sets for TRPG’s.

But what’s the state of TRPG’s now?

Well, it seems like the disaster that hit Japan a year ago had quite an effect on spending, especially in terms of recreation. Apart from many foreigners leaving, many Japanese cut down on travelling and recreational spending. I spoke to my local hobby store owner who said that Magic The Gathering had seen a sharp decline in sales.

Have a look on the store locator from the Wizards of the Coast site and you’ll find plenty of stores stocking their goods in Japan, but talk to the average teenager about RPG’s and they might not know what you’re talking about, even with those who understand English well.

Is this all because of the disaster or just the general slump of the RPG industry?

The Foreign Effect

There might not be as many foreigners in Japan now as there were a year ago, but amongst us the passion for gaming burns strong. My own list of role players in my area numbers some 15 people, and that’s only after being here for 8 months (you should know that I’m socially retarded quite often, so I’m sure there are people I’m missing, just because I don’t get out much.)

Barbarian vs Flesh Golum
The enlarged party barbarian faces off against a Flesh Golum in a session just a few hours outside of Tokyo

Amazon.co.jp, the iTunes store and Drive Thru RPG are probably the main stores used by the foreign community today, while finding dice is a bit of an art form.

Japan Can

Japan is a country of determined people. The spirit of Bushido and “Never Give Up” may be stronger than any Japanese person would ever admit, especially in the face of the situation today. While the rest of Japan may not have been so directly affected as those hit by the Tsunami or the displacement from the reactor, their minds certainly are not far from what happened a year ago today.

What can you do?

Japan doesn’t want to be treated like a plague victim. It’s safe enough, even if there at tremors now and again, but it’s a beautiful country that deserves a visit. As role-players we are continually inspired by Japan, from L5R to the samurai and ninja classes in D&D or Pathfinder. Reach out on the web. Buy manga, play the games and come and be inspired by this amazing country.

It inspires me daily.

Be A Star Player – Rule the Rules

My wife and I were recently talking about why learning the rules of role-playing games is such a scary task for so many players. With core rule books averaging over 300 pages, it’s not surprising that it seems like studying for an exam. Also, it’s quite easy to get by sometimes without knowing the rules, especially around a good GM. Well, thanks to some inspiration from the guys at Campaign Mastery and their great series on Rules Master, I thought I’d share some advice specifically for players.

 

The Key

The key to reading and learning rules, as the Campaign Mastery guys say, is not to read the book from cover to cover. Just read what interests you and what you need to play your character. The rest of this post is aimed at helping you do just that.

 

Start At The Beginning

As with a new text book, always skim through the Table of Contents first. This gives you an idea of what’s in the book and where you’ll find what you want. It’s a bit like looking at a map to get a general idea of where you are. You might even find chapters with names like “How To Play”, “Getting Started” or “The Basics”. Go there next.

 

Reading Lists

In the first chapter there is often a nice little reading plan. Follow that and you’ll save a load of time and be ready to play much sooner. The introduction will also give you a good idea of setting, or at least the feeling of the game, so I’d recommend reading it. From the reading list you can make your own reading plan, like I mention below in the Action section. Generally, your reading plan will skip anything for the Game Master, unless it pertains in some way to how you might want to use your character. Skip anything not related to your character. Not using magic? Then just dump that chapter from the list.

Action – Make A Reading Plan

  1. Write “+1 Reading Plan of Power” on the top of a sheet of paper. Underline it in neon. Draw a dead goblin head next to the heading for extra flair.
  2. Write down a list of all the chapters you’ll need. Exclude everything that’s for the Game Master.
  3. From the Table of Contents, find the page numbers for each chapter. Mark these on your reading plan.
  4. BONUS: Take some sticky paper tabs and mark out the sections you’ll need. If you’re wanting to play a pirate, put a tab where rules for pirate are given to help you find things quickly.

By the way, this method works well for studying too. Web guru’s call it “chunking”, or breaking down information into manageable bits. Our brains are kind of lazy, so you can grasp more if you can see there’s less to actually learn.

 

Build A Character

Once you have your reading plan, the next step is to build a character. A good idea is to have a character concept, as this will help you build a specific kind of character with the rules. As you go, use your reading list to track what you’ve done and add in anything else you want to look at. Just don’t forget to take stuff off the list too, you don’t need extra work.

As you build your character you might get an idea of where you want to take your character. Will your rogue establish her own guild? Make a note of this, preferably on your character sheet. It will help you play your character and, when the time comes, you can use your ideas to direct your reading further.

 

Play

So, supposing y0u have a character and you’re ready to play then try your character in a game. You can learn most of the rules at the table under the watchful eye of the Game Master and with the help of more experienced players. While you’re playing though, make a list of any rules you feel uncertain about and any rules you want to check out. Then you can then look at those rules later or in down time.

 

Dig Deeper

After the game, or if you have enough time before a session, get a better grip on the rules by looking at the following suggestions, which are ordered by importance, from most to least.

Combat: Learn how to fight with every weapon in your arsenal, including your fists and makeshift weapons like broken bottles. You’ll also want to know how to use your special combat abilities and know exactly what their effects will be, since these are often character specific and something your GM may not know off hand. A good place to keep notes is on your character sheet.

Skills: Skills make up a large part of what your character can do. Keep in mind, however, that your skills are not as important to the GM as his campaign and session preparations. So if you understand what you can do with your skills, you’ll get more out of your character. Think of it like this: if you’re a sneaky halfling with major stealth skills, but don’t know how to use them, you just won’t sneak as effectively as you could if you knew the rules.

Movement: The more I learn about martial arts, having tried a few, the more I realise fighting is all about moving. Where you are directly influences your effectiveness. Movement is relatively simple too, so make sure you know how your character will move, both on land, in water and when riding something. A good way to think of this is to look at how a hero in a story of the same genre as the game you’re learning would get around. Aragon walked, ran, rode a horse and used a canoe.

Magic: If you’re using magic, know how it works. A good idea is to keep page references of each spell you can cast.

Miscellaneous: Subjects such as alignment may be covered in a chapter along with other miscellaneous rules. Many of these rules may be fluff that you can skip or skim. I’d leave this stuff for last.

 

Some Other Ideas

Beginner’s Boxes and Solo Modules: These are a great way to learn the game. Play at your own pace while trying out the rules. I don’t need to say more except that our free module is here.

Forums: The web is a great place to learn, especially when there’s a rule your don’t understand. Check out forums like EN World or RPG.net, you may even get an answer from the designer of the game themselves. If you can, find a local forum too, it will help you make friends and find game groups in your area, as well as help you learn local house rules. For South Africans I recommend www.rpg.co.za.

 

You Gotta Read To Succeed

At the end of the day you just need to jump in and read. I always think that a little work can lay the foundation for more understanding later, so even if time is limited, read what you can, it will be worth it.

Let me know if you have more tips or something that worked particularly well for you.

 

Be A Star Player – 10 Ideas to Improve Your Game

There’s plenty of information out there to help aspiring Game Masters (GM’s), but not quite as much for players. Most resources are players’ handbooks, which generally deal with the rules of the game and how to play, not always how to be the best player you can be. The wonderful thing about role-playing games is that it’s an ongoing learning experience as well as a group effort. So, without further ado, here are my 10 Tips for being a better player, in no particular order.

 

1 – Play

To quote Michaelangelo in the latest Ninja Turtles movie: “Learn by doing dude.” You’ll learn more about the rules, the game and what it means to be a player when you’re actually at the table throwing dice. And if you can’t play with friends, you can always try out a solo adventure like our own Sentinels Watching. Most games that have boxed sets also include solo missions that are specifically good for new players but may leave veterans frustrated with the lack of options. Failing all that, online games are becoming increasingly popular, such as Dungeons and Dragons Online and even Heroes of Neverwinter on Facebook. These games give you some idea of how the game works and an insight into the mechanics, but I still think rolling dice with friends is the best way to learn.

 

2 – Read Them Rules

It sounds obvious, but read the rules. It’s easy to get by without actually studying the rules, but this generally slows down the game and puts added pressure on the GM. I’d recommend focusing on the introduction, character generation and combat sections in general. Some books follow quite a different format (such as the Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game), but will recommend chapters for players. Read them. It’s not necessary to know the rules off by heart, but having a general idea of where everything is, will speed up the game. Also, get yourself your own copy of the rules to have on hand for easy reference during the game. Most rulebooks are available in PDF format from places like Drive Thru RPG, making them much cheaper and easier to use on small devices like net books and iPads.

 

3 – Read

Reading the rules is important, but that’s not all you should be reading. There are tons of resources out there, from advanced players’ guides to online forums and blogs like this one. Also, reading stories set in a similar genre to what you’re playing can really spark the imagination and give you some great ideas for where you want to take your character. My current character, a duellist, had me scouring Wikipedia and the net in general for more information on “the gentlemen’s game”, which had some interesting results, including finding rules for duelling that intricately detail the amount of blood required to pay back various levels of insult.

A word of warning though, especially for younger players, there are plenty of sites you don’t want to visit because the information on them is worthless and unhelpful. I generally start with Wikipedia if I’m doing my research on the web and work out from there, using the “See Also” and “External Links” sections.

 

4 – Be Prepared

Having your character, dice and miniatures ready is always a good idea. I keep a folder of character sheets that goes to each game and I make sure I update my character as soon as possible when he levels up. A good way to level up is to find a character editor that works for you and use that, along with the rule book. For Pathfinder I use Erian_7’s Excel sheet, which is pretty complex but very useful.

Keeping notes from past sessions is also a great idea. It helps you to get back into the game quickly and ensures you don’t miss any of those important hints the GM keeps dropping.

Lastly, bookmark any spells, special abilities or sections in the rules you’ll need to look up during the game. It will make it look like you read the rules and give you street cred with experienced players.

 

5 – Play Your Character

I think it was Steven King who said that characters write themselves, you just record what they do. It’s the same with role-playing. Eventually your character will walk into trouble while in your head you’re screaming “No, don’t go down there, it’s a trap!” And do you know what? That will be okay. My duellist character has a knack for shooting his mouth off, while I’m usually reserved and often prefer to take a back seat. The key really is to just play the character as you envision him, which makes for some great role-playing and a great game in general.

Talking in character is a very useful way to get into and stay in character, and most GM’s I’ve played with tend to give awards to those who use a different voice from their own. My wife recently played a half orc that had everyone in stitches because of the voice she used, which not only added to the game but made her believable as a hulking male half orc barbarian.

 

6 – Be A Team Player

This is a general tip, but remember that role-playing is a team game, be prepared to work with everyone and you’ll be a star player in no time.

 

7 – See The World – Imagination

A while back I posted about imagination gaming, so I won’t say too much here except that, in role-playing, you need to try and see the scene in your mind’s eye. I find the more I imagine the scene, the more I get lost in the game and the more I enjoy it. The simplest way to do this is to ask questions about the five senses: “What do I see? What do I hear?” and so on.

8 – Run Some Games

Walking a few miles in the GM’s shoes is a great way to be a better player, because you understand what it’s like to run a game and can sympathise with the GM when things get busy at the table.

 

9 – Help The GM

Helping the GM goes a long way to keeping things running smoothly. Filling a cup, offering snacks and even tracking initiative order all help the GM focus on telling the story. You might even get bonus XP for your troubles, who knows.

 

10 – Help New Players

Helping newer players is a good way to improve your own knowledge of the game and, again, to keep things flowing. Finding rules for them is a great way to get more familiar with the rules yourself and lets you learn about characters you’ve never played before. It also gives you something to do while other players are busy with the GM.

 

 

Ultimately, the goal of being a better player is to be someone who people want to play with – someone who covers their side of the game in an entertaining and fun way without being “that guy” who makes things unpleasant. If you keep working at it, your game will improve, which will lead to more fun for all and more table time for you. It’s a roll you can’t critically fumble.

For Love and Role-Playing

It’s Valentines day, my first in Japan, and there’s a buzz in the office. All around me men are getting boxes of chocolates from the female staff. Even I’ve got some sitting on my desk, and I got cookies from my wife’s students on the walk in. In Japan, Valentines day is about girls and women giving chocolates to friends. In the West, we focus on our love relationships. Love (and friendship) has many faces, but it’s essence is universal.

 

Role-playing too, is becoming increasingly universal. While I’d guess that most games come from the United States, places like Europe and Asia have developed their fair share of systems and even Africa has a number of systems to it’s credit. But hold on a moment. Am I comparing LOVE to role-playing? Sure, many people love the game, but really? Hear me out…

 

I think generally we only think of love in a limited way, throwing friendship from the definition. I’m coming from the position that friendship is just a kind of none romantic love, but to make it simpler I’ll just refer to friendship from here on out. Role-playing is about fun, first and foremost. It’s also about social contract, the spoken and unspoken rules of how we interact at the table. Because of social contract, role-playing can be a really good place to build friendships. A photo from some of my role-playing buddies back home was a good reminder to me of just how meaningful the friendships we build through playing can be. We invest in each others lives through this strange game and real bonds are formed.

 

But role-playing has caused it’s fair share of broken friendships. Enough stories float around of bad games. At the core of this problem, I think, is social contract again, or lack thereof. Both GM’s and players need to work hard to communicate their likes, dislikes and fears. Everyone needs to listen too. By the very nature of the game, it works best when everyone works together. Are we, as GM’s and players, really listening to what everyone else is saying when we sit down to play. Are we hearing the concerns voiced in a joke, or the worry behind a question. Are we reading body language? Are we failing a spot check on fears?

 

This Valentines day, let’s love like God intended, looking past ourselves and to the feelings of others. Let’s build better friendships and a better game.

Sentinels Watching – Not All The Rats Are In The Sewers

 

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Compatibility with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game requires the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game from Paizo Publishing, LLC. See http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG for more information on the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Paizo Publishing, LLC does not guarantee compatibility, and does not endorse this product.

Pathfinder is a registered trademark of Paizo Publishing, LLC, and the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatibility Logo are trademarks of Paizo Publishing, LLC, and are used under the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatibility License. See http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/compatibility for more information on the compatibility license.

Pathfinder and associated marks and logos are trademarks of Paizo Publishing, LLC, and are used under license. See paizo.com/pathfinderRPG for more information on the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

This content produced in terms of the Open Game License, a copy of which is available here.

Some map textures thanks to Wikidepia and May Ang.

Rules

This is the final instalment in our four part series, which started with chapter one, continued with chapter two and chapter three last week, and now comes to its climactic end. Be sure to read those posts before you continue with this one.

If you captured Lazar you can now pump him for information. Make an intimidate check of DC 10. If you succeed read the block below.

“Agh! Stop! stop!” Lazar squeals, his good eye wide with terror. “I’ll tell you everything.” He squirms uncomfortably, trying to inch away from you, but ready to talk. He details to you how he and his men were hired by a group known as the Sentinels, a secret organisation who offered a good reward in gold to bring Rotham to them. Lazar never actually met with anyone from the group, but he was to take Rotham under cover of darkness to the Sentinel Inn, where he supposes the organisation gets their name. He suggests that if you want more answers you’ll need to go poke around there.

If you get nothing from Lazar you can head out of the sewer, meeting up again with Rotham if you left him behind. Rothams own investigations have lead him to suspect something going on at the Sentinel Inn, and he’ll want to strike there now. You have an hour to rest up before heading out again. Any prisoners are locked up near the exit to the sewers.

 

The Sentinel Inn

The Sentinel Inn is a nondescript building within the main walls of the city. It is old but reasonably kept, possibly one of the oldest buildings in South Fort.

The Sentinel Inn Map
Download and print this map for todays adventure.

 

The adventure plays out like a mini dungeon map. There are three possible entrances into the inn, and these are listed below. You can try any and all entrances until you get in, then follow the numbered map below.

 

Breaking and Entering

You can try getting in through the front door, the stable doors or through the chimney, since there’s no fire rising from it. The Sentinel Inn is a two story building but all the windows are too small to fit through, even for small characters.

 

The Front Door

This is a double good wooden door, and is currently locked. Through a small window you can see an empty hallway beyond the doors. A Disable Device DC of 21 is required to get through the lock. Getting through the door brings you to room 2.

 

The Stable Doors

The stable has double doors on both sides of it, except that the Northern doors are blocked on the outside by a pile of crates, barrels and other discarded items. You can make a stealth check (DC 8 ) and a perception check (DC 14) to find a small hole through the crates which any small character can sneak through. If you fail the stealth check the crates clatter to the ground, possibly alerting occupants of the inn, but you can still use the hole if you find it, leading to room 1. The Southern door is a simple door with a lock (Disable Device DC 20). You can attempt to break down the door with your shoulder (DC 15 Strength Check). However, you can hear the sound of horses on the inside of the stables. Getting through the door brings you to room 1.

 

The Chimney

The chimney is large enough for a person to climb through, except that reaching it will be difficult. To climb up to the roof requires a DC 10 Climb check and you must make a second check of DC 15 to climb down on the inside of the chimney. If you have any rope you can reduce the DC to 10. If you fail you take D6 wounds from the fall (we’ll assume you fall from half way up of the 20 foot climb. Success brings you to room 2.

 

Inside the Inn

Refer to this map and read each room description given below once you enter it. If at any point you wish to leave the inn you can go to entry 7 below.

 

Sentinel Mini Map
Map Reference. See the corresponding entries below.

 

Room 1 – The Stables

The room is dark but you can see that two horses are stabled here. If you made a noise coming in they are stamping, snorting and generally making a noise. You can make a Handle Animal check, DC 10, to silence both animals (roll once). Otherwise, after three rounds two men come to see what’s happening and you’ll have to fight them, whether or not your still in the stables.

You can search the room (DC 10) to find 30′ of rope. A door leads from this room into room 2.

 

Room 2 – The Passage

This room is quiet. If you came in through the chimney or search the chimney make a DC 12 Perception check. If you’re successful you find a roll of papers in a leather tube. The papers are blank way-bills similar to the one found in the bandits lair.

Doors from this room lead into rooms 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6. You can also leave via the main doors or through the chimney if you wish. The stairs lead up to the second story which is a series of empty guest rooms, all completely bare except for bed racks.

 

Room 3 – The Book Cook

The door to this room is locked (DC 20). It’s a good wooden door. You cannot see anything through the key hole, something is covering it, but you can hear someone moving about inside. If you manage to bash the door down in one round or pick the lock you get a surprise round against the occupant of the room. If not, or if you broke down the main doors to the inn, you find him standing ready for you. Otherwise this grey haired, portly man, is sitting at his desk, writing in a journal. You can attack him or threaten him. If you fight him, use the stats for Dominic Gladstone below, he attempts to run, but will fight if you have him cornered. If you wish to threaten him make an intimidate check at DC 10. If you fail he calls out and a henchman arrives in 3 rounds. If you succeed he hands you a journal, explaining that he wants only to live and this book contains all the evidence you will need to put the sentinels away for a long time.

If you search the room you find 100 gold pieces in a locked strong box. The lock is DC 25 and the hardness of the box is 8 with 60 hit points and a break DC of 25. The key is around Dominic’s neck.

From this room you can go back to room 2.

 

Room 4 – Guard Room

The door to this room is open and you can see movement inside. If you pass a stealth check (DC 10) and didn’t alert the horses in room 1, you can take a surprise round against the occupants of this room. There are 3 henchmen in this room, – 1 for everyone you have already faced.

Searching the room turns up some fine clothing worth 12 gold pieces.

From this room you can go back to room 2.

 

Room 5 – Master Mind

This door is open and ajar. You cannot see anyone from where you stand but you can tell that the room bends around out of sight.

If you’ve had no combat in the inn so far, and if you didn’t make any noise entering you get a surprise round on the occupant of this room, who is working at his desk with his back to you. Otherwise he is hiding on his bed in the darkness, make a perception check (DC 12) or he surprises you. He makes a single attack and then flees through the window and onto the roof. You can follow him with a DC 10 climb check.

Once on the roof go to the final showdown below.

 

Room 6 – We Paid To Be Left Alone

The door to this room is locked. It’s a simple wooden door with a lock DC of 19. Looking through the key hole you can the dim light of candles and you can hear giggles coming from within. If you get inside read the passage that follows.

A fat man with a thinning hair line and rosy cheeks is tickling a woman with elaborately styled hair, who squirms around and then freezes when she sees you, letting out a loud scream. “What’s the meaning of this?” the man shouts, “we paid to be left alone!”
It’s obvious these two will not be getting in your way, so you make your apologies and close the door as best as you can when you leave.

This room leads back to 2.

 

The Final Showdown

It has started to rain outside and as you climb up onto the roof Cedric turns to Rotham and spits out in loathing “So Rotham, you found me. Well done, but now what? You won’t get any medals for this.”
“I’m not after medals Wolfheart, I’m after rats like you!” Rotham draws his sword and aims it at Cedric. “I think it’s time you came clean.”

The rain has made the steep slate roof slippery and treacherous. If anyone is hit make a reflex save to avoid falling (DC 10). If you fall make a further DC 10 save to grab onto the gutter or take 2d6 damage from the fall. Cedric aims to knock you or Rotham off the roof, switching his attacks between the two of you. Once you have played three rounds of combat read the block below.

There is a flash of light and your night vision is robbed from you. You blink to clear your vision, the rain driving into your eyes making it no easier. When you finally clear your vision you see that Cedric has disappeared, leaving behind a burn mark on the roof and smoke that drifts up into the rain filled sky.

If you manage to defeat Cedric before he escapes, well done. You have completed the mission successfully. If not, if he managed to escape, well then that is an adventure for another day. You’ve still uncovered major goings on in South Fort, and helped Rotham in no small way. Well done adventurer. If you were defeated then hopefully some other hero will be along shortly to avenge you, perhaps another character played by you!

 

NPC’s

Sentinel Henchman

Human Gangster Thug, Lawful Evil

STR    15 (+2)            CON     12 (+1)            WIS      10 (+0)

DEX    11 (+0)            INT      9 (-1)               CHA      8 (-1)

Offence

Bastard sword (Melee): +4 to hit, 1d10 + 2 Damage (19-20/x2).

Defence

AC: 10 (touch 10, flat-footed 10)                HP: 11
Fort: +3                     Ref: +0                        Will:+0

Skills: Intimidate +3.

Feats: Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Bastard Sword) and Weapon Focus (Bastard Sword).

Inventory: Bastard sword, 2d6 gold pieces.

Tactics: These guys are all about dealing damage, but hit them enough (6 or more damage) and they will run away.

 

Dominic Gladstone

Human Counterfeiter, Chaotic Neutral

STR    10 (+0)            CON     11 (+0)            WIS      8(-1)

DEX    12 (+1)            INT      15 (+2)               CHA      9 (-1)

Offence

Mwk Dagger (Melee): +1 to hit, 1d4 Damage (19-20/x2).

Defence

AC: 11 (touch 11, flat-footed 10)                HP: 8
Fort: +0                     Ref: +1                        Will:+1

Skills: Appraise +6, Bluff +3, Craft (Forge Documents) +9, Knowledge (Local) +6, Knowledge (Nobility) +6, Linguistics +6, Sense Motive +3, Sleight of Hand +5.

Feats: Run and Skill Focus (Craft – Forge Documents).

Inventory: Mwk Dagger, 5d6 gold pieces.

Tactics: If attacked Dominic will try to run away.

 

Cedric Wolfheart

Human Guardsman and Traitor, Lawful Evil

STR    11 (+1)            CON     12 (+1)            WIS      9(-1)

DEX    15 (+2)            INT      10 (+0)               CHA      8 (-1)

Offence

MWK Long sword (Melee): +3 to hit, 1d6 + 1 Damage (19-20/x2).
Light Crossbow (Ranged): +3 to hit, 1d8 + 2 Damage (19-20/x2).

Defence

AC: 13 (touch 13, flat-footed 12)                HP: 15
Fort: +0                     Ref: +1                        Will:+1

Skills: Appraise +4, Bluff +4, Perception +3, Sense Motive +3, Climb +2.

Feats: Point Blank Shot and Precise Shot.

Inventory: Blue Coat, MWK Long sword, Leather Armour, Light Crossbow (15 bolts), 15 gold pieces.

Tactics: Cedric tries to surprise attack anyone who enters his room, then flees through the window, climbing up to the roof (DC 10 climb check).

 

THE END

Well, that’s the end of the solo campaign, for now. Let me know what you thought by leaving a comment. Keep an eye open for the PDF version coming soon that will include higher quality maps, more adventure option and the final battle with Wolfheart and his magic wielding accomplice.

In Japan Baby!

Inspired in Japan

My wife and I have been in Japan now for a little over two months, and I’ve used my free time to research role-playing and hobby games here in the Land of the Rising sun. In the upcoming months I’ll be sharing some of my findings and thoughts on the hobby gaming industry in Japan, reviewing games and bringing you inspiring thoughts you can bring to the games table. So join me, as I get inspired in Japan.

Make sure you follow me on twitter: RisingPhoenixGM.

Magic – World Mechanics and Story Device

This week saw the premier of the final Harry Potter movie and the launch party for Magic the Gatherings 12th edition. It’s almost like magic is everywhere, and really, it is at the very core of the fantasy genre. Magic is an integral part of fantasy and fantasy gaming, from magical creatures to spells and worlds formed by raw magical energy. In this article I’ll look at magic in terms of world mechanics and as a story device.

 

Defining Magic

I could look specifically at magic in this article, but then write a similar article on mutation and super powers that wouldn’t add anything new. Rather, let’s group magic, super powers, psionics, amazing technology and everything else that is “abnormal” and call them “world mechanics”. I’m using broad strokes here, but let me explain. Mouse Guard is a game (and comic) with little magic. Mice can talk, but they possess no powers as such or magical artefacts. Mouse Guard’s “world mechanics” are interesting because we can play as mice in a world terrifying to mice. Dungeons and Dragons, on the other hand, lets us use magic to fight magical creatures, and we can become powerful beings that can take on terrifying dragons through the levelling up mechanic. If you think about it, levelling is a type of magic, you would never gain such abilities in real life even with dedicated training. Thus the world mechanics for D&D represent a world that is full of magic. So, I’m going to use “world mechanics” and “magic” interchangeably in this article.

 

Magic has Boundaries

Magic needs to have boundaries, without these boundaries players will feel cheated and confused. Can my wizard become invisible if he casts an invisibility spell? Boundaries (rules) set this out for you. The boundaries then, like I said above, define the world at the same time. Frodo’s ring had power to corrupt, so we understand that in The Lord of the Rings magical items may have a risk involved when they are used.

 

Magic breaks Boundaries

Firstly, as a story element, magic breaks boundaries. Magic lets your characters and NPC’s do things that they would not normally be able to do in the real world. Flight, as an obvious example, is only possible through magic. Because of this, you need to think outside of reality and be creative when designing your sessions and include encounters and NPC’s that bring the reality of the game world into focus and let the players experience that world. It’s no good running a fantasy game where everything is normal by everyday terms, and I’d argue that a normal day even in terms of your fantasy world would be too boring for your players, but there needs to be an obvious difference between the two worlds. A note of caution though, sometimes subtlety really pays of with regards to the differences in your fantasy world and our own, you do want it to all be believable in some way.

Furthermore, magic gives you a reason to break the mould with you game, within reason. In a recent game I introduced a series of earth-nodes that needed to be used in sequence, and did not let players move as they wished between the nodes. I explained this difference as a consequence of the spell plague, which the players were happy with and I could then stagger encounters out between the different nodes. Because magic and the mechanics of your game world represent the weird and wonderful, take inspiration from the setting and let your creativity flow.

 

Magic is often Limited

Magic has its limits, which is important to remember. If any world mechanic is limitless, it becomes worthless in a way. If everyone can fly, you will need ways to cut that ability at some point and you need to work out the repercussions of giving everyone such an ability. In my opinion, magic becomes more interesting if there is less of it. In the Lord of the Rings, there are only a handful of magical users, which makes characters like Gandalf and Saruman stand out amongst the rest, magic is thus strange and valuable.

Potter Fans at the Premier
Potter Fans at the Premier

At the end of the day magic represents a great device for telling the stories we love, that’s why so many people fell in love with the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings and so many other fantasy stories. Use magic well and your games will be that much more interesting and captivating.

 

If you watched the last Harry Potter, or played MtG during the release party or have any other thoughts about magic, leave a comment. Let’s talk geek 🙂

Imagination Gaming

I love PC games, they are easy to get into and the level of immersion is huge. But, like TV we are fed so much visual and audio stimulus that little is left to the imagination. That is the sad thing to me, and why I love role-playing games and boardgames so much. Yes, I know, I’m an idealist, but bare with me. “Analogue games” let us exercise that important skill that is so often neglected by adults: the imagination.

 

A little experiment

Let’s try a little experiment. I’ll describe someone to you, and you try and imagine him in your mind:

A sullen looking dwarf stands before you, his long dust coloured beard hanging to the knees of his short, stumpy legs. His dark eyes seem to stare out into space, chasing some distant thought. The helm on his head is painted blue and gold, with a horn attached to either side. Over a blue tunic he wears a coat of scale mail, well polished but battered by many battles. He leans on a large axe with his right hand, and the thumb of his left hand is slung through his belt.

Now, once you have that image in your mind, skip to the end of this post and see the image I’m describing. Which image was better, the one in your mind or the one below?

With the imagination, anything is possible and anything can be experienced. This is an important tool for the GM as well as the player. When you build your world, your NPC, even your magical items, take a moment to imagine your creation. Not only does it help you describe what you see more vividly, but it helps you spot obvious flaws in your creation and gives you more ideas to work with. Let’s go ahead and try it (yeah, we’re getting really practical in this post).

Take a moment to imagine one of your major NPC’s, or a character you’re playing if you’re not a GM. Imagine what he or she is wearing, what they are doing and how they feel. Also think about where they are and the things that are influencing them. In my mind, my character is taking a moment to watch the birds (there are birds outside my window now) and he’s feeling the weariness of the day, and the weight of his armour. It’s an unusual moment of peace for this battle weary veteran, and he’s even put his prized maul aside, he’s not thinking of war and monsters right now.

 

Visualisation

Visualising something with your imagination lets you practice or rehears something in your mind. Visualisation helps you achieve your goals by letting you see the steps you need to complete to get there. It’s not only useful for role-playing, athletes use it too, like the race car driver memorising the track before he sets out. When I do martial arts, I sometime just stand still and imagine what  I’ll be doing next. It lets me practice quickly. I think this is a vital skill for any GM.

When we were children, how much easier was it for us to use our imagination. Sometimes a box was the best toy, or a stick. I think we are slowly losing our imagination, outside of role-playing and fiction writing, it’s practically unfashionable to use your imagine. I’d like to get your feedback, what do you think?

Getting the most out of any game, for me, is all about imagination. From PC games to boardgames and role-playing games, I’m the commander, or the spy, or the assassin, and I’m living the game. All games are essentially about escapism, and your imagination is the key to breaking the bonds of earth.

Dwarf
A dwarf warrior, not quite as you imagined him.

 

I’d love to hear from you, so tell us what you think and share some of your experiences.