Wednesday, 26 August 2015

[review] Skorne Empire

So if you have ever caught Mike and myself ever talking about the Iron Kingdoms, and Warmachine and Hordes, you will get the hint that we are massive fans of the Skorne. There is something out them that is somewhat unique, or at least, refreshing when compared to traditional, Tolkien, fantasy races.

What do we know about the Skorne already?

This strange race of humanoids comes from the far east of Immorean, past the Storm Lands and deserts, and past the Abyss. They are an ancient race, with an equally age old enmity with the Elves. They are a warrior race, with a society that focuses on slavery, torment, pain and torture. Their design and look is clearly inspired by aspects of Japanese Samurai culture, and ancient Persia. And as for their physical form, they are pale, with bony rigged foreheads, and pointed ears.

On face value alone they could be considered the equivalent of Dark Elves from that other wargaming company, but then you would be wrong.

The Skorne Empire book really lifts the lid off this ancient empire. We learn of their rise from a nomadic culture around the time the ancient Elven empire was destroyed, and their warring between city states, and the eventual formation of a unified empire, first under the exiled king, Vinter Raelthorne of Cygnar, and then under the Supreme Archdomina Makeda.

The Skorne, unlike all other races in the Iron Kingdoms, have no religion that focuses on a creator god. That is not to say that a god did not create them, but that the Skorne neither know, nor care, if this is the case. Death does not lead to the after life, and instead Skorne souls are left to be consume by the Void. However, the Skorne culture survives despite these metaphysical hindrances. They are a race that is focused inwardly on self ascension and exaltation. Pain, torment, war and suffering are all things that allow Skorne to grow and become stronger and more powerful. They are also a culture that is focused on ancestor worship, especially having learnt how to save those important Skorne souls from the Void, trapping essences in gems, which in turn can speak, teach, an even animate stone statues.

On reading the Skorne book you can be forgiven if you think that playing a game where you are all Skorne is one about being evil slavers, foul torturers, and nothing more than Saw the rpg. But a game playing as the Skorne is more about a certain point of view. For them, life a fleeting thing, that also contains much power, and which must be dominated in order to obtain a form of immortality. The Skorne do not conduct torture or inflict pain for fun, or for pleasure. These are all tools, as part of their philosophy, for controlling the world. For the Skorne willingly inflict pain and torture upon themselves in order to become stronger. For the Skorne are all capable of magic (they all have a ARC stat!), and thus can all learn Morthitheurgy - a form of magic powered by blood, flesh and pain. In many aspects the Skorne a mix of Eastern philosophies. They a have a warriors code, they have a understanding that life is short and they must create things of meaning for the after life offers no redemption, they worship their ancestors, and they practice magic that focuses on the flow of life essence and relies on asceticism.

They are simply evil, from a human perspective. In some respects that's a bit like playing a Vampire the Masquerade chronicle......

Of course the book provides ample information on their empire in the east and how to run various campaigns for different mixes of characters. Of course the Skorne make excellent enemies in existing games (hint hint - the Witchfire Trilogy).

The real show stoppers are the slew of new careers, such as Beast Handlers, Extollers, Bloodrunner, Cataphract, Chirurgeon, Chymist (Skorne have their own Alchemy!), and more.

And of course there are all the Skorne warbeasts, and more from the eastern deserts. We also get a nice look at the upcoming gargantuan beast for Hordes, the Desert Hydra.

Overall this is an excellent book, filled with content and art to the level we expect from Privateer Press.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

[Actual Play] AD&D 2nd - Ravenloft, House of Strahd Session 2

We had a short 90 minute session this week and won't meet again until September due to PAX Prime. Enjoy for now!

Ravenloft Session 2

Our intrepid heroes are still in the dining room, mutilated bodies are piled under the table and gargoyle carcasses lie on either side. Surveying the scene, they hear a groan from under the corpses as a young half-elf crawls out. He’s covered with blood, but doesn’t react to the Quidiana’s holy symbol of the Morninglord. Explaining that he hid under the table during the initial slaughter, he says his name is…

Thenn - Level 7 Half-Elf Thief
Str 9, Dex 17, Con 7, Int 14, Wis 14, Chr 12
HP 18, AC 5, Longsword
Thenn came to Count Strahd begging for alms.

According to Thenn, the slaughter began with gargoyles descending from the ceiling. After the massacre, the Count came in and took a locket from the Burgomeister.

Grayven decided to investigate the floor near the organ for a trap door through which the Count may have escaped. Although he didn’t notice a trapdoor, the organ appeared to be on tracks. Trying various keys, the organ slide away and revealed a secret passage with a dull note. The party decided to rest the night and barricaded the main doors with the dining room table and a dozen bodies. The other bodies were used to block the organ and it’s tracks.

The party gathered around a soft burning lantern, the party removes their armor and decides a watch order of: Thenn, Grayven, Kolbo/Galfonz, Quidiana/Ioana. The party heads to sleep.

During the fourth watch, Qiudiana and Ioana hear thuds against the main set of double doors. It slowly builds in frequency and might as they watch the door buckle slightly with the heaviest blows. Quidiana blesses the party and Ioana braces the door. Neither wakes up the party. Quidiana casts protection from evil. After three minutes, the thuds suddenly stop.

The party wakes up the next morning and decides to proceed through the secret passage instead of the main doors, expecting more gargoyles to be waiting outside. Through the secret passage the party finds an old disused defense corridor complete with arrow slots. Following the cobwebbed corridor, the party finds a spiral staircase leading both up and down.

The adventurers argue a bit about the best course of action. Quidianna reasons that if they want to just escape and survive, up is the better option. Downstairs is probably where the dungeon is.

The party proceeds up and on the next landing find another, similarly disused defense corridor. Heading west, both Quidiana and Thenn both simultaneously stop and look at the north wall. There’s something strange about it. Quidiana searches the wall and finds a hand shaped depression. Pushing in, the wall slides across and reveals Castle Ravenloft’s throne room.

The room is barren, with many of its once glamorous banners and tapestries faded by dust and time. A lone throne sits facing them and a small nightstand on the left side holding a book. Thenn approaches carefully and looks for any traps. He narrowly avoids setting off the pressure plates connects to spikes meant to impale anyone sitting in the chair.

Grayven approaches and inspects the book. It’s a heavy tome covered in black leather with steel studs and binding. Picking it up to inspect, he is unable to read the text. No one in the party can make sense of it until Quidiana makes sense of the works - an archaic mixture of Balok and elven arcane. He begins to read,

“I am the Ancient, I am the Land. My beginnings are long in the darkness of the past...”

Quidiana conveys the horror of Strahd I’s past to the party: Death, victory, love, betrayal. As Quidiana slams the Tome of Strahd shut, the thud echoes throughout the old Throne Room, causing a swarm of bats to fly up from the northern stairs.

Kolbo takes up a defensive position and Grayven steps behind the fully armored dwarf. The half-elf wizard tells the rest of the party to hide behind the throne as he conjures up a fireball. The swarm swoops in, easily deflected by Kolbo but Grayven falls victim to a dozen bites. His arcane energy dissipates - the spell is lost.

The party retreats back through the secret passage but Kolbo is too slow to get through. He takes up a defensive position, batting the bats away while the rest of the party seals the door shut. Grayen readies up the second fireball he had memorized and, as Quidiana reopens the secret portal, unleashes a fiery blast frying the bats.

The tapestries burn and the throne is shattered, it’s melted gold oozing down into the flagstone joints. The party stands victorious against the vermin, but who knows what other horrors might be unleashed…

Session Loot: nil
Session Exp: 1500

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

[review] Bad Moon Rising - An Iron Kingdoms RPG adventure

Bad Moon Rising is the latest pre-written adventure for Iron Kingdoms RPG from Privateer Press.
The adventure, like many of those produced by Privateer Press, consist of a number of scenes, mixing social and combat encounters. And while many think IKRPG is a combat heavy game, Bad Moon Rising has a lot of roleplaying chances as the player characters get to interact with many NPCs.
Bad Moon Rising takes the form of a horror murder mystery. So expect some spoilers coming up and if you are players in a campaign, perhaps totally stop reading this review now.
The adventure centres around the attacks in a Khadoran outpost by the Circle of Orboros, and in particular the increasing number of vicious attacks by a monster - a Warpwolf. Over a number of nights, the convergence of the 3 moons of Caen progresses, and the ferocity of the Warpwolf attacks increase. The Circle mount more and more attacks from outside of the fort, and all the while a harsh snow storm blows.
The characters are of course suspects, and are expected to take it upon themselves to investigate the attacks, to determine the nature of the creature and put a stop to them. As the story continues it will become apparent that there is a dark history to the fort that relates to the current events. Furthermore, a conspiracy will make itself known and lead to a final, bloody combat.
As a murder mystery and investigative story, the main third of the adventure is fairly non-linear, with many small side scenes and chances for the players to learn more about the events surrounding the scenario. So while on the face of it the story may seem a bit of a rail road, there are plenty of optional scenes and potential plot shortcuts or even derailments, that would lead the story toward roughly the same conclusion.
As a story, it is overall fairly obvious, more so, because it mirrors the adventure I ran for my first game way back when IKRPG was first released. A warpwolf attacking, a mystery surrounding the targets of the attacks, the warpwolf being in fact someone important within the settlement being attacked. This means that with a little work, and the adventure does have suggestions, the location and many of the details of the adventure, can be altered to fit the needs of your own campaign.
Finally, as a adventure for IKRPG, it is a nice window into the creatures and people that feature in IKRPG: Unleashed, perhaps presenting the opportunity to even include characters from that book too.

Friday, 14 August 2015

[Actual Play] AD&D 2nd - Ravenloft, House of Strahd Session 1

Campaign Notes and Character Creation

Mike here, I am excited to present to you my group’s adventure through I6 Ravenloft which will surely be a dramatic tale of courage, horror, and the demihuman dignity that unites us all. Just to give everyone a little background, I was running Exalted 2nd Edition for this group before I got so frustrated with the rules that I suggested we try a less convoluted game system, like AD&D 2nd Edition.

Reading through the core AD&D rules after a 15 year hiatus has been a great experience. The core rules are actually very simple and balanced - the game merely suffers from having a unique resolution mechanic for every individual ability or check. To help simplify gameplay, we agreed as a group to only use the Critical Hits and Material Components optional rules. Encumbrance is subject to DM fiat.

The following books are being used for the game:
  • AD&D Players Handbook (1989), with Material Components optional rule.
  • AD&D Dungeon Master Guide (1989), with Critical Hit optional rule give an extra damage die on a roll of 20.
  • AD&D Monstrous Compendium (1990)
  • I6 Ravenloft (1983)
  • RM4 House of Strahd (1993), for additional reference material and AD&D 2nd Edition translation.
  • Domains of Dread (1997), for modified Priest and Wizard spells, Fear, Terror, and Madness Check, and Dark Power Checks.
For character creation, we opted to play this game hardcore. Character generation was done with Ability Score roll Method I, 3d6 in order. Players were allowed to kill off a character that they didn’t like, but no more than twice. If they didn’t like the third character they rolled up… tough luck. Characters were then given 40,000 experience, making all characters level 6.

Additionally, characters rolled 3d6 and consulted the following table to see why they were petitioning Count Strahd:
3. You are a Kargat agent sent by King Azalin of Darkon to steal the Sunsword hilt from Strahd's castle. To prevent you from blowing your cover, Azalin has given you false memories of your identity and purpose for coming to Barovia. Re-roll on the table for your false memories, ignoring results of 3 and 18. You will remember your true purpose at an opportune time.
4. Suspect Count Strahd murdered spouse and want compensation.
5. Taxed double because someone has the same name as me.
6. Begging for alms.
7. Want garlic tariffs lifted.
8. Cattle reimbursement issue.
9. Local bandits attacking merchant caravans.
10. Dispute with barber over surgery.
11. Family inheritance dispute.
12. Vistani stole your fish.
13. Suspect your neighbor is a werewolf.
14. A witch turned you into a newt.
15. Your neighbor definitely is a werewolf.
16. Need scheming subterranean ratmen exterminated.
17. Want Morninglord faith officially recognized.
18. You are a vengeful spirit inhabiting the body of a Barovian subject. You seek to murder the devil Strahd. Re-roll on the table for your peasant body’s identity, ignoring results of 3 and 18.

The party was also given six random magical item rolls. As it turned out, these were necessary to even survive the first encounter. The starting items included:
  • Scroll of Detect Invisbility (wizard)
  • Scroll of Invisibility (wizard)
  • Scroll of Aid (priest)
  • Knife +2
  • Mace +1
  • Ring of Mammal Control
  • Flail +2
  • Plate Mail +2
The game is set in my modified version of Demiplane’s Core Domains, shown below. This world map will have little affect on gameplay in the I6 module, but will be critically important if we decide to keep playing after I6 is complete.

I6 Ravenloft Session 1

Count Strahd von Zarovich is having a dinner party, and the player characters are invited. Once every ten years the enigmatic Lord of Barovia invites his countrymen to Castle Ravenloft for legal petitions and de jure issues that have not been resolved by the local boyars and burgomeisters. On the Old Svalich Road, four concerned Barovian citizens approach the castle…

Quidiana Wolfswift - Level 6 Half-Elf Cleric Devotee of the Morninglord
Str 6, Dex 12, Con 11, Int 11, Wis 16, Chr 13
HP 44, AC 9 (Buckler), Mace +1
Quidiana wishes to petition Count Strahd in a dispute over barbery malpractice. Additionally, she claims to have not stolen Graven’s cows.
Quidiana is attended by the hirelings Jester (archer) and Harold (foot soldier).

Grayven - Level 6 Half-Elf Wizard
Str 15, Dex 12, Con 8, Int 14, Wis 13, Chr 10
HP 13, AC 10, Knife +2, Darts
Grayven wishes to petition Count Strahd to be compensated for Quidiana stealing his cows.

Kolbo - Level 6 Dwarf Fighter
Str 14, Dex 8, Con 13, Int 9, Wis 5, Chr 5
HP 27, AC -2 (Plate +2, Shield), Flail +2, Short Bow
A witch turned Kolbo into a newt. He got better, but he’s petitioning Strahd to have witches outlawed.
Kolbo is attended by the hirelings Boris and Galfonz (foot soldiers).

Lady Ioana Gundar - Level 6 Human Fighter (Non-player stand in)
Str 15, Dex 11, Con 9, Int 9, Wis 13, Chr 12
HP 37, AC 4 (Brigandine +2), Longsword +1, Short Bow

The party approaches a two horse carriage on the road. The coachman atop the carriage informs the party that they are late and he will take them to the Castle where the Count awaits with food and lodging. Kolbo excitedly hops in the carriage and tells his hirelings to hang onto the back because there’s no room for them inside.

The carriage spurs off at an insane pace, eager to make it back to the Castle before the approaching evening storm. The party arrives at dusk without incident, the sun has set behind the Balinoks, and by the time they exit the carriage the coachman is already gone. Neither hireling saw him leave. The petitioners gather up and knock on the front door, which gentle opens with the force of the knocker. They step in, admiring the gargoyles in the foyar and proceed into the main entrance, following the soft, sad sounds of an organ playing. The group peers through the dining room door to find it filled with flavor, light, and the organ’s sound. Fully entering, they find their host tickling the ivory.

Strahd bids the petitioners enter, sit, and eat. He asks each what the issues is, concurring that Barovia does indeed have a witch problem and laughing pitifully at Grayven and Quidiana’s plights. Strahd tells them to enjoy their meal and suggests they don’t peek under the table. With that, he stops playing and slumps over the keys. Kolbo gets up to investigate with his 10 ft pole.

The door crashes shut with a gust of wind that blows out the torches and chandeliers. Outside the adventurers can hear the portcullis slam down and the rattle of the drawbridge chains as the only known entrance is cut off. The party hears crunching and rustling in the dark room but their infravision reveals nothing. As they struggle to light their torches, the stone gargoyles descend.

Boris is the first to fall, struck by the lashing stone armored tail of a gargoyle. Jester falls next in the initial flurry, never seeing the enemy descending behind her. Harold is stuck by a mightly headbutt, but manages to stay standing, for a time. The ensuing melee is a stalemate until Grayvan turns the tide with a powerful strength enchantment on Kolbo. The first gargoyle crumbles and another soon follows. The final gargoyle withdraws, fumbling with the door and narrowly escaping.

The party thoroughly scathed by their first encounter, Kolbo smashes the cloaked wooden mannequin he finds where Strahd had been playing the organ, damaging said organ in the process. Checking under the table, Grayvan finds the mutilated bodies of other petitioners, including the burgomeister of the Village of Barovia only a few miles away.

Searching for loot, the party finds 150 gp tucked away in the rafters, a collection of purses and bags probably taken from the fellow petitioners. Quidiana also suggests eating some food, but Kolbo thoroughly rejects the idea, smashing the dining room table in the process.

So here the party stands, trapped and alone. A storm approaches, as does the unknown…

Session Loot: 150 gp
Session Exp: 1300

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Darker Days at Gencon 2015 - Kingdom Death

So if you didn't know, myself and my long time friend and sometime cohost on Darker Days Radio, James, backed Kingdom Death.

Well, that game is finally nearing shipping, and also, they are at Gencon.

Now we actually know only a bit about the gameplay, given that the team behind Kingdom Death wanted to keep spoilers for the game off the net.

However, Chigg has been at Gencon, and had a chance to play the demo game. The verdict. Awesom. A wargame/rpg experience with excellent figures.

So for your enjoyment, some quality photos thanks to Chigg.

If you want to follow Chigg on twitter, @sandchigger

Hopefully more photos to come.