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Monday, September 30, 2013

Smugglers' Docks, part 2: Putting together a starter faction for Empire of the Dead

The Factions in the original book and figure substitutions:

  • Holy Orders - could do these initially out of some Paladin and Cleric figures from D&D
  • Lycaon - Werewolves
  • Nosferatu - Vampires, maybe some D&D villains and rogues for thralls, D&D bat swarms, evil cleric maybe for Guardian
  • Gentlemen's Club - Victorian Gents with a few Mad Scientist figures, can field out of colonials and old west figures to start
  • Sons of the Empire - Gents, Darkest Africa adventurers and British officers would do
  • The Darkfire Club - Evil gentleman's club & Zombie mobs - Would have to paint some figs for the human component, possibly out of Malifaux, have enough zombies to fake it, and the actual set to paint
  • Wulfen Jaeger - field from Cossacks
  • Zendarian - field from colonial Germans or Russians
The last four are all variants of the Gentlemen's Club that cost extra for special features.

Setting up a Gentlemen's Club

The Gentlemen's Club seems to be the most basic faction, so let's see how goes together. The recommended starting budget is 150 shillings, +50 for statistic and skill upgrades if you want to start with more experienced factions. I'll go with the base 150. The basic Gentlemen's Club is a neutral faction. One third, rounded up can be heroes, including the leader, so:

The President 20
Vice President 15
The Secretary 15
Members x 5 @ 10 = 50

That's 100 for personnel, so 50 left for gear. We have three equipment lists to consult, Generic equipment p.92, Exotic equipment, p.95, and Gentlemen's club weapons, p. 78 The three heroes can use exotic equipment, but not the membership.

First cut at buying gear:
Heavy Pistol and Sword for President   7 + 3
Repeating Rifle for Vice President 10
Lt Pistol and Silver ammo for Secretary 5 + 5
Member with Knife and Torch 1 + 2
Member with Light Pistol 5
Member with Axe 3
Member with Sword 3
Member with Volleygun 6

They'll need a name for the club, and for each character, and a card listing them with a statistics bar for each.
The stats bars will look familiar to anybody who has played any form of Warhammer or its descendants, differing in details.

The Euripides Club (apologies to A.C. Doyle)
Not feeling inspired at name generation tonight, I do a bit of web searching and come across The Victorian and Steampunk Name Generator and generate a few lists from their different social groups, from which to weed down.

Lord L. Swords Trente - President
Alexander Robinett Demalynes IV - VP
Sir Cattermole Elders Jessop - Sec'y

Saunderson Binstead III
Perry Gormackin Hynde
Bartholomew Willis Reade Jr.
Montague Fleetwood Meredith Jr.
Rev. Newell Crohill Shirwode

The Euripides Club as above is going for maximizing on numbers, especially the number of heroes, so it is a bit weak on the equipment side, which is also weighted towards the heroes. Should it succeed in early encounters, its first order of business will be to gear up until everyone has firearms and then start picking up some of the generic and exotic equipment.

Within the current 100 + 50 distribution, it could do something like this to get more guns:
Drop the silver ammo, and replace the members' axe and torch with two light pistols.
Replace the repeating rifle with a shotgun for 8, and upgrade the member with sword to a light pistol.

Doing both would look like:
Heavy Pistol and Sword for President   7 + 3
Shotgun for Vice President 8
Volleygun for Secretary 6
Member with Knife and Lt Pistol 1+5
Member with Light Pistol 5
Member with Light Pistol 5
Member with Light Pistol 5
Member with Light Pistol 5

I think I'll go with that instead, so:

Lord L. Swords Trente - President with Heavy Pistol and Sword
Alexander Robinett Demalynes IV - Vice President with Shotgun
Sir Cattermole Elders Jessop - Sec'y with Volleygun

Saunderson Binstead III, Member with Knife and Light Pistol
Perry Gormackin Hynde, Member with Light Pistol
Bartholomew Willis Reade Jr., Member with Light Pistol
Montague Fleetwood Meredith Jr., Member with Light Pistol
Rev. Newell Crohill Shirwode, Member with Light Pistol

The gearing up path will start with obtaining more long arms.

I'll add in the stat bars later.

Smugglers' Docks, part 1

Here's a little plan I've been mulling over. Posting it to spur myself onward in execution. I want to get started again in miniatures skirmish gaming, and build a scenery setup I can use for a few games and do some rules comparison on. Three rules sets will be in the first go. West Wind's "Empire of the Dead" is one I have been reading for several months without actually getting a game together. The theme is Victorian Steampunk/Horror and it is a campaign oriented set of skirmish rules along the lines of Necromunda or Mordheim. I have some of the figures for it unpainted and a miscellaneous collection of 28mm stuff in various genres that I can use to fake it until I get around to painting those and the ones coming from their recent Kickstarter. Black Scorpion's "Cutlass" is the second contender. It is a pirates/fantasy pirates themed set of campaign oriented skirmish rules. I have been painting some pirates lately, with a Pathfinder Skull and Shackles campaign I have been playing in as the proximate driver and Cutlass as a secondary goal. So that's what I'll be using for them.

The last is my own Rencounter rules that used to be up on my Hobby Hovel site and have been awaiting renewed attention and reposting for close to a decade now. Rencounter is a skirmish rules toolchest for anything up to around 1900, as automatic small arms and modern grenades are two elements I never really integrated. Hopefully I will find enough inspiration to get it back up on the web.

Given those disparate sets of rules, and some prepainted dock terrain pieces from a post-Christmas sale I never got around to using, my plan so far is to set up a coastal town docks area with half timbered buildings suitable for a pirate town or old backwater smuggler's village in the 19th Century.

The roughest outline of an initial scenario is that one faction will be smuggling cargo ashore in the middle of the night, while a second faction that is either the local lawful authorities or a rival gang that has tumbled to their plans charges out of ambush to arrest them or steal the cargo.

  • Organize factions for each rules set that can be used to start campaigns.
  • Finish up enough pirates for two factions, roughly 24.
  • Craft whatever scenery & ships I need to round out the stuff I have on hand.
  • Sort out from the existing collection and then paint figs for Empire of the Dead trial games.
  • Run some games with the usual suspects or drag in some of the guys I usually only see at conventions.
  • Write some rules reviews, comparisons, battle reports, and general discussion of skirmish rules design here.
  • Get back into minis photography by posting some pics of the figs for these games.
  • Have a scenario that I can post here for each game and use for convention games.
  • Both Cutlass and Empire of the Dead are essentially two player games. Look for or put together multiplayer sequence variants that can boost each up to around 6 players for a typical convention game.
  • Possibly extend the comparison to some other skirmish sets.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Rules from my Pacificon OD&D game

With just the three little brown books, thieves were not an officially supported class with trap disarm and backstab tables etc. Had someone wanted to run a thief, I was prepared to invoke the "even a Balrog" rule to cobble together a simplified thieflike class on the spot, or shade a fighting man who goes light on the armor to have some on the fly advantages for it that would be thief-like. Notably, I wanted to avoid the percentile thief skill tables, and wanted trap evasion or disarming to be the old school figure it out what you are doing and maybe roll a D6. While I announced and described the rule, it did not come up directly as nobody really opted for anything too far outside the box.

Among the houserules in my long 70s high school D&D campaign (after my first megadungeon game imploded on bad DM calls) I developed an elaborate spell point system. One of its features was to make utility spells generally cheaper than combat spells, so a beginning mage could take a couple Light spells or Read Magic and still cast Sleep, if maybe a bit weaker on the number of orcs it would knock over. It felt too "advanced" and too cumbersome to use for this one-off though, so I went with the simple expedient of saying mages could memorize one 1st level combat spell and three utility spells, and told them which counted as combat spells (just sleep and charm person on the original short first level list). This worked pretty well, giving mages some fun magic to do without wiping too many encounters with Sleep. Not exactly sure how I would scale it up with levelling, but it might be worth some effort to knock together a variant that has the same property of simply adding more utility magic while keeping combat spells on the strict Vancian memorization limits. 

Since an original cleric has no spells at first level, I gave the cleric a couple scrolls of cure light wounds as backing from his temple superiors for his mission.

Hit points I did with the original all D6s table, but I had any roll below 4 on the first hit die be a 4. So no two HP PC fighters or 1 HP clerics or mages. Monsters did not get this bump, so a goblin might be a 1 HP wonder.

Stats I had them roll 3D6 for each statistic, no swapping, but let them bump one up to a 14 if they had no rolls of 14 or higher, which would both give some opportunity to customize towards a class and make up for poor rolls. If they were notably bad, I gave one re-roll of the whole set of stats. Only one guy ended up using that chance and he ended up keeping the original set of rolls since the rerolls were worse. So this is almost as tough as the original system.

Damage was 1D6 for normal hits by any weapon, with a natural 12 to hit being a max damage crit. But the Chainmail man to man 2D6 to hit tables give some widely varying chances to hit based on weapon/armor interactions, with two handed swords being awesome pretty much across the board, and daggers and short bows being quite good against lightly armored targets but poor against heavy armor, so fighting men had some serious advantages in combat with the full range of weapons available, but magic users are surprisingly good against very lightly armored targets like the mook goblins they faced most often in the castle ruins and first dungeon level. In general weapons that would do more damage in later D&D tend to hit more often on this table so get a net effect in the same direction.

Stat bonuses were a bit more liberal than the original but less than Greyhawk. STR 13-15 got +1 to hit, 16 - 18 got +1 to hit and +1 to damage, for instance. Also gave high strength characters a +1 on the door opening checks. These bonuses are bigger than they seem, given the 2D6 combat bell curve and 1D6 universal weapons damage.

I ruled the one inch space on the floor grid was 3.3 feet instead of the more typical 5 feet in current rules, so we could have the classic close order 3 man wide in a ten foot passage formation, fighting a couple ranks deep if the second rank had appropriate pole weapons or a short first rank. I was planning to penalize greatswords that didn't give themselves lateral swinging space, but didn't end up enforcing that, might do it if I was to run with Chainmail combat tables long run.

I played the sequencing pretty much like Chainmail man to man with very long weapons getting first swing advantage on closing, and short weapons getting first swing and potentially extra swings at the end of the round if the length difference was really big on subsequent rounds, with initiative on a D6 deciding move order and and swing order in cases where the lengths were close. So everyone moved and/or did ranged attacks by initiative order, then all melee attacks took place by hybrid length/initiative order. Magic did not get high enough in level or frequency this time to make me deal with whether higher level spells took longer, could be interrupted, spells were slower to cast from scrolls, etc.

Cinematic declarations were either handled in colorful descriptions of the results of standard rolls, or with off the cuff D6 or stat based rolls to succeed if trying to achieve some affect outside the ruled bounds like a knockdown or disarm or a tricky move like surfing down the stairs on a broken door. Yes, there were a couple of characters doing multiple wipeouts on the winding stairs down to the second level at the end as they kept failing to emulate Legolas's shield skateboard prowess.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A late Pacificon D&D game writeup

I had a good time with old school gaming at Pacificon a couple of weeks ago. 

 First up was a game of Seastrike I ran on Friday. It turned out that all four people that signed up were players I know and enjoy playing with.

 On Sunday, I ran three little brown books D&D as it if was spring of '75 pre-Greyhawk, with a return to the Pits of Gorm, one of my old dungeons from my high school campaign from the seventies as the map and some of the original encounters.  Other encounters I developed just before or during the game. Used plastic D&D 3rd figs and Terraclips 3D scenery for good but portable visuals. Set it up for six but ended up including the first alternate who was friends with one of them for a party of seven. Also made it an experiment in using the Chainmail man to man miniatures rules for the combat, which was something I never did as a DM back in the day, except for one session as an assistant DM. It worked fine for the party of first level characters, started arbitrarily with 3D6 X 100 prior XPs so there would be a chance to level up during the game. 

We rolled up characters, did a cursory setting and tavern introductions meetup where we created some backstory linkages, and I ran a brief travel bit to the dungeon. We then played through the castle ruins and first level with them just at the point of reaching the second level dungeon and with one character having just hit second level, and the rest getting close. Nobody died but there were a couple of really close calls. 
The two funniest moments were the Amazing Sword of Law and the Grisly Improv Trap of Stupidity. 

The sword incident began with me rolling up a treasure on the spot with a couple of random items in it. One was just a potion. The other a +3 Lawfully aligned sword. DING - DING -DING go the greed lights. But, the guy that picked it was was neutral, takes a die of damage and drops it, and then it's "So which of you fighters is lawful?" Nope,not one of the three. Only the cleric is Lawful. So it becomes a bit of a race between the cleric and a fighter for who can change class or alignment first and be able to use the thing. The cleric conceives the idea of grabbing it and running out of the dungeon to go become a fighter. But rather than have things blow apart at that point, I reminded him that that would  be a very chaotic act and deny him use of the sword anyway.

The trap didn't begin as one. There was a room with a terrible pentagram with chaotic inscriptions around it on the far wall opposite the entrance and a spike in the middle impaling a skull for a bit of grisly color. 
One of the more chaotically inclined players says "I'm pulling the lever". 
"What lever?"
"The skull on the spike."
"Yeah, I pull on the skull to see what happens."
I didn't have anything specific in mind for that when I laid out the room. It was more or less intended to provide a research opportunity for the guy with an interest in demonology and a generally evil magic bit. But I knew that the action should have a dangerous reaction. So since the skull was impaled but not anchored to the spike he pulled the skull off the spike and then got to roll a save vs magic against the compulsion to slam his own head against the spike so it would penetrate his eye socket and into the brain. Fortunately for him he made that save.