Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Chronicles of the Seventh Moon, Session 4 (Part II)

I forgot (again it seems) to mention that the last campaign post was just the first part of the 4th session. A good part of the night session was spent talking with other NPCs. I was impressed by the player’s interest in interacting with other adventurer companies. They really enjoyed it.

Day 30, Month of the Festival, 757 years since the Fall of the Gods, end of spring

The aasimar Hilguen, the blind monk Nogard and the elf Heian decided to rest for the night at the Lonely Inn. The hian monk, always quiet, did not lingered for long, going up to his room. The elven rogue seated with the Emerald Champions – a fey adventurer company – and heard about their quest for the Seven Iron Crowns of the Troll Kings of Volkeslag. After that, Heian told them about the adventures of his own group, the Hammers of the Dawn, and the strange ruins below a small town at the Shinning Principalities. Together at the table was the archer Taerim Satyrbow, a female elf and member of the Circle of El’dar. While these tales were told and sang, Hilguen was close, always worried that the chaotic Heian would talk too much and reveal the discovery of the Black Mirror, the artifact found below Silvery Palms.

However, the paladin also found time to enjoy the night and talked quietly with Kanaruk Shadowslayer, the half-orc* hunter of the Lunatics. The paladin felt obligated to impart to the hunter the exact dates of the next Darkness – discovered throught the manipulation of the Aldarian Orrery. Hilguen even told him about the coming of the mythic Alignment**. Kanaruk laconically thanked for the information and complained about his fellow adventurers from the Lunatics, implying that his present association with them was somehow forced.

After talking with the half-orc, Hilguen went for a quick dinner, but was interrupted by a young half-elf called Jargas the Bastard, who claimed to be the leader of the Circle of El’dar. He was recruiting companies interested in hunting down the Black Wyrm, a dragon which was a common figure of folklore among the western nations of Aldar, famous for desolating entire villages and dales, living behind none alive other than vast carpets of lilies. Many believed that the dark flowers were grown overnight were the strange breath of the Black Wyrm took lives. The problem with these tales is that no one has ever saw this dragon. Hilguen sensed that Jargas was on a personal vendetta (and also very inexperienced) and tried to diplomatically dissuade him. At this moment, the warning bells of Baer’s Tower started to toll. The city was under attack!

Deafening shrieks were heard above the Lonely Inn, coming from giant vultures that were clearly visible against the Blaze’s crimson luminescence. Riders with black armor controlled the beasts that dropped big bone cages over the town. When those hit the ground, they shattered, releasing masses of undeads. Other vultures were bombarding the city with iron spheres that released poisonous gas. The aerial attack was concentrated in two places: the Tower itself and the Lonely Inn (where the adventurer companies were sleeping).

Few adventurers were up (or sober), among like Hilguen, Heian and Nogard, that led the disorganized groups. They secured the inn’s gates against a swarm of undeads. They got some help from Kanaruk, Jargas and Taerim, besides a few drunken dwarves of the Erased Rune. However, poisonous gas filled the yard and those that came close to iron spheres discovered that each was guarded by a pack of shadows.

Heian and his fellow fey allies from the Emerald Champions climbed the stairs and attempted to engage one the Black Riders with magic, but the creature reflected all dweomers thrown at him using his sword. One of the adventurers from the Lunatics – the human warrior Axar Weaponmaster – charged recklessly the Rider, only to be thrown from the rooftop.

Nogard also went up. Haflway he met the mysterious Mask, the half-elf leader of the Lunatics, who gave to him a small pulsing red potion before wishing (while giggling) good luck.

After saving another adventurer from the toxic gases, Hilguen summoned the Divine Spark to jump to the rooftops, executing a vertical charge against a Black Rider, severely injuring his giant vulture mount. A few seconds later, Nogard sneaked behind the creature, throwing the red potion that burst into a fireball when shattered (the monk heard from behind scandalous screams of joy from Mask welling “It finally worked!”). The Black Rider wasn’t defeated, but retreated from battle. The iron spheres were also neutralized by the local spellcasters (including one of the inn’s owners, a retired sorcerer called Brisna).

Garet was separated from his fellow Hammers during the battle, but he helped the members of the Halfling Caravan to fight off undead goblins. In this regard, he was assisted by a young female halfling Crow, that sold potions, acids, drugs and other alchemical items.

At the Lonely Inn all the wounded were gathered and treated by clerics from the various companies (on which Hilguen and Nogard helped). Miraculously, there weren’t casualties.

Day 1, Solar Month, 757 years since the Fall of the Gods, beginning of summer

Next morning a horn sounded over Baer’s Tower, summoning all companies and mercenary troops. There were 10 companies at the city: the Hammers of the Dawn, the Stonefists, The Red Wolves, the Lunatics, the Emerald Champions, the Circle of El’dar, the Avengers of Gôteintor, Knights of the Mug, the dwarves of the Erased Rune (mercs) and the amazons of the Daughters of the Unicorn (more mercs). Baer’s Towers also had its own Sentinels, the city’s guard and small army of heavy infantry.

The Road Marshal, Garamus the Hawk, veteran of the War of the Dark Banners, talked with all the summoned. At his side was the Master of March, the warbard Mellius Words-of-Power. During the Marshal’s speech, rumors start spreading among the present adventurers that one of the famous “Champions of Concordia”*** has arrived at Baer’s Tower. Shortly after, two men step before the companies and the Marshal. They’re clad in black and followed by a chill aura. Their names were Mistranides, the Wight, legendary swordsman (and assassin), and Zaram, a sorcerer famous for his deep necromantic lore and the ability to interact with the shades of the dead. Both belonged to the famous (and feared) Company of the Black Lantern****.

After the ruckus passed, the Marshal informed that the night’s assault was an attempt to poison the city’s water wells. This indicated, he explained, that a siege was imminent. Diviners were consulted and the Marshal believed that their best option was to march at once to the Eye of the West, a lighthouse and the main fortresses on the road above Baer’s Tower. Constructed by dwarves, the Eye allowed a small force to hold an army coming down from the mountains.

Ended the oration, Garamus invited the companies’ leaders inside the Tower to organize the march. Once inside the Hammers got a glimpse of the renowned Hammer of Baer*****, the artifact-weapon that eternally hovered in the main hall of the keep, alerting with its glow of any attacks against the city. After the debate about who would march where, the two members of the Black Lantern informed that they quest would lead them to a place know as the Cavern of Nightmares. Implying that this obscure mission was more important than the goblinoid barbarians, the Black Lanterns would march ahead, and alone, and would dispose of any threat on the road.

The last problem faced by this war council was of a diplomatic nature. The Stonefists dwarves refused to march together with the renegade dwarves from the Erased Rune. The Hammers tried to talk with their allies but dwarven “honor” was unyielding. The Stonefists would march ahead and alone from the army, until they reached the rock formation known as the Three Giants – here the army would camp for the night, before reaching the Eye of the West. In a gesture of vast dwarven “respect”, the leader of the Stonefists – Kazdum – invited the Hammers to march at his side, but they politely refused, arguing that the Marshal’s orders should be followed. The dwarves, probably the most lawful people on the Seventh Moon, understood the argument without becoming offended******.

With the plans drawn, an army of 200 (half of it composed by adventurer companies) moved out of Baer’s Town and start to climb the Mountain Road. The march to the Eye of the West would take two days and if the enemy got there first, it would probably mean a siege (and the fall) of the last city by the Mountains of Eternal Fire.

*Half-orcs of Isaldar have their own culture and heritage, a legacy from the fallen orc empires the reigned over Isaldar before the Fall of the Gods. More specifically, half-orcs are called Shadow Hunters, because most of them are trained to fight the dangerous beasts and the Sceadugenga that rise from the deeps during the Darkness, the dreaded eclipses of the Seventh Moon.

**The doomsday alignment that marks the waning of the Seal of the Seven Moons around the Orb of Elaria, possibly realizing the living apocalypse known as the Annihilation.

***The ten most famous adventurers companies of West Aldar, whose deeds are chronicled by the bard colleges of Concordia, the City of the White Rose.

****This adventurer company was created by a folkloric sorceress from Huan Ti, in far East Aldar, known as the Lady of the Black Lantern who possessed power over Death. If the rumors were true, all members of the Company were raised from dead and obeyed the will of the Lady.

*****Bear was a Luminar hero from just after the Fall responsible for imprisoning Gromunfang, the Terrible, below what would become the Mountains of Eternal Fire.

******Put together a samurai, a spartan warrior and Conan. Imagine that if, somehow, these three had a baby, it would be an Isaldarian dwarf. In other words, you would get an entire race that’s amazingly easy to offend and that starts feuds and duels with the same enthusiasm that Isaldarian elves start mischief.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Auguries - Alleys of Zobeck and Might of the Magus

Open Design apparently is releasing more books in more time than I can read them (damn, I guess that mean I’m getting old). And talking about Open Design, Wolfgang is bringing more Planescape goodness – now for the Midgard setting – with the new patronage project Dark Roads and Golden Hells.

Introductions made, here are two more auguries for Pathfinder.

Alleys of Zobeck is a complement to the adventure anthology of Streets of Zobeck. Actually, this excellent priced PDF is a nice compilation of extra material, including small set-piece scenarios to spice some encounters of the later.
Alleys of Zobeck has a scattering of new rules, like an alternate Lust Domain (more appropriate to the adventure’s rogish and noir flavor), an infernally-possessed template, a new animal companion (dire weasel), a feat tree around the new feat Cheap Shot (with the excellent Low Blow feat, perfect for Streets of Zobeck), new traits, a new magic items (clockwork hand is going to be success, at least for style), gear and even a new incantations that enable you to play with memories (and pastry, an important detail).

For the GM, beside the extra encounters, there’re two new NPCs (including Goldscale, the kobold paladin) and a set of very useful tables for picking up “Small Treasures” (almost worth the PDF’s price alone).

There’re also three new locations (one of them mobile – the Blackeye’s Carriage) and ideas for hooks with locations from Streets of Zobeck.

Alleys of Zobeck is priced at $2.95 and requires Streets of Zobeck (or you risking finding this PDF of limited utility).

I didn’t expect a new sourcebook from Sigfriend Trent so soon… does this man ever sleeps? Is he really a humanoid (after all, outsiders, undeads and other creature don’t require sleep). Anyway…
New base classes mean new Advanced Feats books: now it’s magus class (from Ultimate Magic). Advanced Feats: Might of the Magus is all about Pathfinder’s fighter/mage class. While the author gives us a close examination of the class’ role and abilities and provides three full progressions (the Fae Blade, the Lady of the Slash and the Rune Fist) what we really want to see here is feats… tons of feats.
Might of Magus bring 30 new feats, each followed by “behind-the-scene” comments of the author. Due to the magus’ role as a martial class, many of the new feats are perfect for fighters, barbarians and other melee-inclined classes.
Right away, we get Adrenaline Surge, that gives bonus to attacks and damage rolls when your character is below ½ his total hit points (a feat thematically perfect for the barbarian, if you ask me).
Arcana Thief is one of my favorite approaches to feat design. Instead of just granting bonuses, it rewards specific actions. In this case, the magus gains extra Arcana Pool points if he successfully dispel, counterspell or disrupt spellcasting – a perfect blend of flavor and mechanic.
There a number of feats that expands on the idea of a “magic warrior”, enabling the magus to use magic while cleaving or executing attacks of opportunity. Other feats improve class features like spell combat, enabling the magus, for example, to cast spells while using two-handed weapons or even ranged weapons.
As usual, Trent “hides” many core feats in his Advanced Feats line. By “core” I mean feats that change basic structures from Pathfinder. For example, Hobbyist grants you full rank at one skill, while Unorthodox Training let you exchange saving throw progressions. Both are nice additions to Pathfinder.
Back on the combat department Might of the Magus has a number of feats that make excellent companions to basic abilities like Power Attack, Combat Expertise and Cleave. For example, we have now Reckless Attack, Parrying Defense and Precise Attack.
A clever feat: Warding Touch Spell is a metamagic feat that allows you to place a normal touch spell on yourself. The next target that hits you on melee combat is affected as if you had touched him.
A cool feat: Spelldrinker let you learn a new spell  (from your spell list) every time you score a critical or kills an enemy. The fact that it requires the Black Blade class feature should provide ample hints from its inspiration.
Might of the Magus keep’s Advanced Feats standards and manages to increase it. It has excellent (almost obligatory) feats for all types of melee-based classes, not counting increasing the magus’ versatility by enabling members of this class to specialize in two-handed weapons, ranged weapons, among other tricks. I thoroughly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bestiarum vocabulum – Deodand (New Race)

I’ll be leaving town tomorrow to enjoy the national holyday of this Thursday (due to the celebrations of Corpus Christi). I’ll be back at Sunday, so this is probably my last post this week. And talking about it, next week I’m finishing another Little Encounter (the last Aeon entry of the Bestiary 2, finally!), a bunch of new Auguries, and a Worlbuidling post (or two) about magic-rich underworlds, secret psionic gods, devout wizards, purchasable clergy and other equally strange, dubious and contradictory (but I hope entertaining) topics.

Today’s entry isn’t exactly a bestiary. Here’s a different Bestiarum Vocabulum – instead of a monster, I’ll provide a new race for Pathfinder. I can’t explain why, but I always found Deodands (from Dying Earth) a cool candidate for a Player Character Race. Yeah, it’s an evil and cunning man-eater, sneaky and remorseless… well, so are orcs, with the difference that the later are already a little worn-out – although the core Tolkienian concept of the orc is, my opinion, still rarely understood or properly used in most campaign settings; in fact, you can argue that 90% of today’s orcs are Warhammer’s orcs, not Tolkien’s (or, lately, Warcraft’s orcs). Anyway, I love Deodands.

Bestiarum vocabulum – Deodand (New Race)

The keeper went to a shelf and took forth a leather-bound folio. "In a past eon Mad King Kutt ordained a menagerie like none before, for his private amazement and the stupefaction of the world. His wizard, Follinense, therefore produced a group of beasts and teratoids unique, combining the wildest variety of plasms; to the result that you see."
"The menagerie has persisted so long?" asked Garstang in wonder.
"Indeed not. Nothing of Mad King Kutt is extant save the legend, and a casebook of the wizard Follinense"— here he tapped the leather folio—'Vhich describes his bizarre systemology. For instance—" He opened the folio. "Well . . . hmmm. Here is a statement, somewhat less explicit than others, in which he analyzes the half-men, little more than a brief set of notes:
'Gid: hybrid of man, gargoyle, whorl, leaping insect.
Deodand: wolverine, basilisk, man.
Erb: bear, man, lank-lizard, demon,
Grue: man, ocular bat, the unusual hoon.
Leucomorph: unknown
Bazil: felinodore, man, (wasp?).'"
·        Cugel the Clever

Deodands are one of the reasons why most humans fear to walk alone in the dark. These sinister and murderous humanoid, with strong carnivorous tendencies, originated some time after the beginning of the Age of Darkness. They are strong creatures, but can be killed with offensive spells, which they fear due to some ancestral instinct.

Physical: Deodands are humanoids which look like handsome, muscular human men, but with dead black lustreless skin and long slit eyes. While they argue to the contrary, it’s impossible for other races to discern any difference between a male and a female Deodand.

Society (?!): Deodands lack what most humanoids would call a civilization or society. The natural distrustful for everything that can think (even if just barely) is the main reason why Deodands are such loners. Deodands hold together in small and insular clans only because it would be stupid to venture or sleep alone in some regions. These Deodand nests are rarely much bigger than 3 or 4 individuals.
Albeit deprived of any social structure, Deodands are not barbarians. In fact, for predators that live in the wilderness, they’re strangely aware of civilized rules of etiquette and other, baroque subjects, such as taxonomy, exquisite gastronomy or, in at least one occasion, the ecclesiastic canon of an obscure deity. Many believe that this weird mix of unpractical knowledge is proof of the artificial origin of the Deodands, maybe at the hands of an exiled archmage from a past empire. The current theories suggests a Thassilonian arcanist, devout of Zon-Kuthon and, maybe, a direct servant of the Runelord of Gluttony.

Relations: Common wisdom states that not even a morlock would trust a Deodand. And that’s entirely correct. Deodands seems totally incapable of holding themselves when the subject is (intelligent) food. However, it’s undeniable that few humanoids are as useful as wardens, henchmen and servants for arcanists, as a Deodand.
Considerably smarter and sneakier than orcs and goblinoids, a Deodand – adequately intimidated by the eldritch power of a wizard – is an extreme versatile tool. Even some orc chiefs started recently to employ Deodand (except as jailers, because of the rise of mysterious “disappearances” among prisoners) among their retinue.

Alignment and Religion: The only thing that a Deodand fears more than a wizard, are the clergy of Zon-Kuthon, the one deity that – they believe – can extinguish their race. Deodands are usually neutral evil, although an increasing number of “mad” Deodands has risen recently. These individuals are usually Chaotic Neutral (or more rarely True Neutral) and show a peculiar revulsion for human flesh (although they don’t have any problems with dwarf or elf “steak”). Seen as cursed or lepers, these mad Deodands are exiled from their nests and forced to walk among other races.
A few wizards and sages, aware of the phenomenon, speculate that mad Deodands are, perhaps, the first sign that the original dweomer responsible for creating the race – partially from human stock it seems – finally is starting to fail.

Adventurers: Deodands “adventurers” are unheard-of. When a Deodand is seen among humans, dwarves and other civilized races it is usually as a dominated monster or, more rarely, an “exile”. In fact, the Deodands use the same word for “adventurer” and “exile”.
These wandering mad Deodands are known to constantly complain about their miserable fate, forced to talk and walk side by side “with the food”, incapable of taking pleasure in “the most basic desire”.

Deodand Names: Deodand exiles adopt names among the most common race of their “peers”. They have a weird fascination for pompous and archaic names, usually followed by equally loquacious surnames. Most adventurers with a “pet Deodand” in their party ignore this and call him by a elected nickname, like Teeth, Chatterbox, Bottomless (of a particular hungry Deodand), Cat’s-eye, Silktongue, Spellscared, Nightdevil or Le Chef (a Deodand that REALLY knew how to cook).

Racial Traits:
+2 Strenght, +2 Dexterity, –2 Charisma: Deodands are strong and possess feline reflexes, but in the end are little more than predatory beasts.
Medium: Deodands are Medium creatures and have no bonuses or penalties due to their size.
Darkvision: Deodands can see in the dark up to 60 feet.
Normal Speed: Deodands have a base speed of 30 ft.
Basilisk Blood: Deodands receive a +2 racial bonus on saving throws against poisons and petrification. Once per day a Deodand can postpone the effects of one poison or petrification attack, after failing saving throw, for one hour.
Light-haters: Deodands are automatically dazzled in daylight and equivalent light sources.
Night Stalker: Deodands receive a +2 bonus on Stealth checks made underground or during the night.
Hunter of Men: Deodands receive a +2 bonus on Intimidate checks made against humans. All humans encountered by a Deodand start with an attitude of hostile. Deodands can use a feat slot to change their type to monstrous humanoid, at 3rd level.
Hunger: Deodands possess natural weapons, dealing 1d6 of damage with their bite and 1d4 with their claws. They can buy the Scent ability, as feat, at 3rd level.
Spell-dread: Deodands deeply fear arcane magic and receive a +2 racial bonus against saving throws arcane spells. The first time in an encounter that a Deodand fails a saving throw against a spell or is damaged by arcane magic, he’s automatically shaken for 1 round. However, he can use his next standard action to withdraw. If he chooses another action, this opportunity is wasted.
Languages: Deodands begin play speaking Aklo and Undercommon. Deodands with high Intelligence scores can choose from the following: Dwarf, Giant, Goblin, Orc, Terran and Common.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Frequently Unkown Rules (Pathfinder)

First, this is not a lazy post (really). The reason is that I couldn't let pass this amazing discussion at the Paizo message boards, where Pathfinder players started a compilation of "Frequently Unknown Rules": usually about minutiae that were changed from the original 3.5 SRD, but also many other rules that just were passed by many groups.

I remember that when the 3.5 Revision came out I read (from cover to cover) all the three core books again; however I didn’t found the same enthusiasm (and time) to repeat the process with Pathfinder.

The post is big, so if you don’t have time, check Howie23’s excellent synopsis.

Some “discoveries” resulted from reading the post (again, at least for me):

  1. Detect Evil not only detects evil but also malign intentions, without regard for the target's true alignment.  All other Detect (alignment) spells work likewise. 
  2. Fighters can retrain bonus feats granted by their class.
Very interesting stuff.

Now, I summon the The Joeskythedungeonbrawler Protocol to save this post from laziness: an old house tule that I use since the 3.0 Edition is to double the Ability Score bonuses when rolling “pure” Ability Checks. It may seem silly, but D&D usually kept the same base DCs for both Ability and Skill Checks, which I thought wasn’t  fair because Skills always had much higher bonuses. However, I admit that I’m going to read Pathfinder again to see if this house rule still makes sense.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Small Augury - Complete Advanced Feats

Complete Advanced Feats is the compilation of Sigfried Trent’s series that pushed the feat design model ahead using the new Pathfinder classes from the Advanced Player’s Guide. I admit that I was hoping for new installments, now based on the classes of the Core Rulebook (well, I still CAN hope for that).

Because I already reviewed a good part of the original series (Visions of the Oracle, Summoner’s Circle, Inquisitor’s Edge and Cavalier’s Creed), I’ll try to focus my comments on feats for the Alchemist and Witch classes. If interested in any of the other classes, the links above should have (I sincerely hope) more pertinent information.

The Complete Advanced Feats is 77-pages color PDF that brings tons of new feats, many specific for the new base classes of Pathfinder (Alchemist, Cavalier, Inquisitor, Oracle, Summoner and Witch), together with three complete builds for each class, usually around a class feature (like the “bomber” alchemist) or a classical archetype (like the quintessential black knight).

Books of feats are rarely a novelty these days, but the author manages to surprise by approaching the subject with new or intelligent mechanics, the kind of thing that when spotted generates this typical though: “Why had I not thought of that?

A few examples of feats that improve mechanical aspects of Pathfinder are:

Advanced Alchemy that allows you to add your Int mod to the target DC used to resist your alchemical items;
Familiar Focus bases your familiar’s progression on you character level, not class;
Hexing Familiar allows you little servant to cast basic hexes;

Now, feat that in my opinion, bring new perspectives to the game:

Create Wondrous Creature let you play of Dr. Frankenstein and you don’t even need to be a spellcaster. This is the type of feat that sold me on Trent’s works.
Magic Sense gives a sixth-sense against permanent magic effects and allows you to specify what would’ve happened if you failed a particular saving throw against magic (very useful with enchantments);
Mystic Retribution grants you a minor counterattack against spellcaster in melee range that thwart your spellcasting actions;
Opportunity Counterspell finally makes counterspelling a tempting tactic (it’s almost too good actually);

Other feats are just natural progressions or extrapolations of the classes’ structures, like Extra Familiar, which allows a witch to improve her spell of known spells; or Familiar Development, that increases your familiar’s powers (whose abilities are really weak and deserved a better mechanic); or the simple (but essential) Improved Concentration and Potent Hex.

If you already have most of the Advanced Feats’ PDFs, it’s unnecessary to say that won’t find anything new in Complete Advanced Feats. However, if you still haven’t the entire collection and desire a print version of these feats, then Complete Advanced Feats is a superb offer, almost an appendix of the Advanced Player’s Guide (especially if you consider that many of the feats are not exclusive to the new classes).

Finally, it worth mentioning that Complete Advanced Feats has a nice character sheets for summoner’s eidolons and cavalier’s mounts.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Augury - Streets of Zobeck

Streets of Zobeck is an anthology of adventures with a “grim’n’gritty” feel.  Rogues, scoundrels, street gangs, black magicians and the lovable scum of the underworld of the Clockwork City are the theme of this sourcebook.

Streets of Zobeck is a color book with 94 pages, 7 adventures, new locations, NPCs and even rules material. The cover art is by Pat Loboyko – a perfect choice given the supplement’s thematic. Pat’s style is known to the fans of Warhammer 2nd (he’s the artist responsible for illustrating that game's many careers).

The first chapter gives a (false) lukewarm impression: 8 new NPCs, each with full stats. While the concept of each character is interesting, there’s little background to use. Only when you read the adventures you realize their potential. Maybe this chapter should have been placed after the adventures (the same argumento is valid about the second chapter). Talking about it, the next chapter presents 6 new locations of the Clockwork City – usually inns and establishments of dubious reputation.

As mentioned, the previous chapters are just a warming-up. Streets of Zobeck begins to draw attention only with its first adventure. “Everyone Lies” is a classic thieves’ tale, taking place after the execution of a particular dangerous job. All NPCs involved are scoundrels and/or with second intentions. The adventure has an excellent medieval-noir flavor.

The next scenario – “Rust” – is a ghost story with a nice twist and has two of my favorite NPCs of Streets of Zobeck: Mister Corpulent and Master Doldrum. The adventure’s theme fits nicely with the clockwork-style of Zobeck.

“The Fish and the Rose” is the quintessential heist against a powerful political figure. The aspects of invading the “safe” will surely engage the party. “The First Lab” will please fans of Zobeck by revealing a little more of the dark past of the Free-City, specially the revolt against House Stross. The adventure also throws in some horror elements. “Rebuilding a Good Man” is the most morale complex tale and by far my favorite premise; it deals with one of most mysterious NPCs of the book – the Painted Man – and has a nice double-crossing element which, while mostly in the background, can be used by a clever Gamemaster to tempt and test the PCs’ loyalties.

Streets of Zobeck isn’t satisfied with grim’n’gritty/noir, bringing a Victorian flavor to the Free-City with the “Ripper” adventure (with can have a very dark and surprising end if the PCs are greedy). “Flesh Fails” is a scenario involving a love triangle and undeads (a guaranteed success!) and has probably one of the funniest beginnings, by forcing the party to impersonate one of the Arcane Collegium’s Consuls.

Streets of Zobeck also has new material in the form of feats, character traits, spells and magic items.

I must admit that, after books like Tales of the Old Margreve and even the own marketing done by Open Design about Streets of Zobeck, I was expecting a book with a heavier and more mature tone. Blame that on the company’s outstanding work with its previous adventure modules all very are different and innovative. In this aspect, Streets of Zobeck is a more traditional product, bringing short adventures with rich backgrounds. Some of these scenarios – like “Rebuilding a Good Man” and “Flesh Fails” are particularly enthralling, either because of their subject, or because they put the PCs in unusual situations. Fans of Thieves World, The Black Company or Lankhmar won’t be disappointed. I also recommended Streets of Zobeck for those groups that prefer adventures with a conventional structure or that hadn’t played an Open Design product before.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Swords & Wizardry from the Old World

No, this isn’t a cross-over between S&W and Warhammer, but the English translation of Epée & Sorcellerie. For those that don’t know it yet, Epée & Sorcelleries isn’t exactly a retro-clone (albeit it’s based on S&W), but a french Old School RPG, written by Nicolas Dessaux, that uses 2d6s instead of a d20 and brings a refreshing approach to the OSR.

With new mechanics, like its AC rule (based either on Dexterity or on the type of armor used) and flavorful abilities, like the sorcerer’s “the dark side of magic” (itself, perhaps, based on Chainmail), Epée & Sorcelleries is definitely worth a look.

And I had print the French version of the thing just yesterday… damn...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Weird Arcana - Chalice of the World Serpent (New Spell)

Ok, here's another bizarre dweomer. It's based on the same  "principles" (if one can call that principle) of my first Weird Arcana. At least this one tries to be (just a little) more praticle (and I hope that English is more tolerabe now).

Chalice of the World Serpent
Level: Sorcerer/Wizard 4, Witch 4
Components: V, S, F (a chalice, filled with wine, adorned with emeralds, worth 500 GP)
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Personal (see text)
Target: You (see text)
Duration: 1 round/level (see text)
Saving Throw: none (harmless)
Spell Resistance: none (harmless)

This baroque spell, almost forgotten by the arcanists of the present age, temporarily empowers a chalice, filled with wine, making it resonate with the power of earth and stability, associated in ancient times with a divinity or force known as the World Serpent.
Once chalice of the world serpent is cast, the dweomer’s effect can be passed to a new target, just by giving him the chalice. Basically, the spells is centered on its arcane focus.
The chalice shines, illuminating its surrounding as a light effect of 4th level. The chalice-bearer, who must hold it with his right hand raised high, is attuned to the forces of stability, and is immune to bull rush, overrun, trample and trip maneuvers. In other words, no creature can push, overrun, trip or trample him. All these maneuvers automatically fail and the charging creature merely stops before the chalice-bearer.
Chalice of the world serpent is instantly dismissed if the target runs, drop the chalice or strikes a reptile. Note that the target isn’t immune to grapple or disarm attempts. If the chalice is stolen from him, its effect pass to the taker (however, nothing can stop the caster from normally dismissing the dweomer).
If the chalice-bearer drinks from the wine, the spell is cancelled but the target gains a +15 bonus to one bull rush or overrun maneuver, if attempted before the end of the target’s next turn.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Weird Arcana - Heart's Desire (New Spell)

I'm a great fan if illusions, specially in older editions where believing in a mirage make it real for the victim. It was a nice touch in my opinion, reminding me of the classic glamour powers of the Fey. D&D 3rd Edition, unfortunately, removed part of the magic behind this in favor of a system with exact effects (I admit that illusions were then a constant source of DM's rulings). Together with Necromancy, the Illusion school was one of the causalities of the D&D 3rd (and, consequently, of Pathfinder). This new dweomer below pushes a little the concept of Illusion, intruding upon the schools of Enchantment and, maybe, Divination. It deals, even if only in flavor, with concepts like 'trickery' and 'desire' - themes that, I believe, fit well in the Illusion school.

Heart’s Desire
Illusion [Figment, Mind-Effect]
Level: Sorcerer/Wizard 3, Witch 3
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Close
Target: One creature
Duration: 1 round
Saving Throw: Will negates
Spell Resistance: Yes

This tricky dweomer works in reverse of most illusions. Instead of trying to make the target believe that the figment created is real, this spells deliberately implant in the target’s mind the suggestion that what he’ll see is an illusion. In other words, the target automatically knows that the figment before him is an illusion and, thus, lower his mental defense against it. However, the mirage takes the shape of the object or person most desired by the target at that moment. This usually surprises the victim of heart’s desire, leaving him with reaction, and at the same time likely revealing an important information.
In game terms, if the target successfully saves against heart’s desire, his is momentarily surprised by the figment, becoming flat-footed, but reacts quickly enough to close his thoughts before the image is completed. The flat-footed condition disappears 1 round later.
If the target’s fails the Will saving throw, he’s stunned by figment, which assumes appearance of the thing most coveted or desired by the target. Both the stunned condition and the figment remain in effect for 1 round.
Because heart’s desire tricks the target, the first time his spell is cast, the target must roll his Will saving throw twice and take the worst result. Targets with ranks in Spellcraft can attempt a check (DC 20) to recognize the trick and ignore the penalty. If you’re unsure if a particular target was or not affect in the past by heart’s desire, give him 20% of being the victim of this dweomer (30% if he deals constantly with arcane casters). Once a target fails a Will saving throw against heart’s desire, he becomes immune to further uses of this spell for the next 24 hours.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Chronicles of the Seventh Moon, Session 4 (Part I)

Day 30, Month of the Festival, 757 years since the Fall of the Gods, end of spring

The adventurer companies of the Hammers of the Dawn, the Red Wolves and the Stonefists had reached Baer’s Tower. The town was located at the end of a sinuous road, atop a small rocky plateau, whose center was occupied by a massive tower, crowned by five turrets, with blue flags flaying the flaming hammer – symbol of the Road Marshal. The small city itself sprawled around the tower, filling the uplands. A heavy gate, after a dry hoist-bridge, linked the road’s end to the elevated town. At the other side of the plateau, a heavier and more fortified gate connected Baer’s Tower to the Road of the Mountain and the Dance of Flames, the perilous path atop the Mountains of Eternal Fire. A great portion of Baer’s Tower was abandoned, particularly the blocks closer to the walls that overlooked the plateau’s borders – a legacy from the War of the Dark Banners*. These new ruins were called Empty Town and constantly assailed by kobold gangs, hunted now and then by the Guard and even the city’s adolescents, but never fully eradicated.

Crossing Empty Town, the Hammers found immense wagons, pulled by buffalos, indicating the presence of a Halfling Caravan. The nomad Silent Folk, although reserved and close-lipped, were also known for their rules of hospitality, cheap services of good quality, and also for brewing the best tea of Aldar. Heian and Garet separated from the party to gather information and talk with the halflings. Hilguen, always worried about the more “unlawful” members of the Hammers, sent Nogard and Drícia after the pair.

The vanyr barbarians of the Red Wolves decided to camp outside the plateau, sending only the young brothers Beolrus and Beltia inside the walls. The dwarves of the Stonefists also camped outside, but closer to the road. Their leaders – Kazdum and Barani – followed Hilguen.

Drícia, Nogard, Garet e Heian enjoyed themselves at the Halfling Caravan. The first encounter was with the halflings twins Dorek and Ilard, which provided ample sample of the Silent Folk’s hospitality, serving the heroes with surprise-cheese and even find a diviner to read their fortune (something that didn’t pleased the maiden-priestess Drícia, who noted that the halfling diviner was an adept of the mad goddess Zerakin).

Meanwhile, Hilguen, Beolrus, Beltia, Kazdum e Barani were victims of a kobold ambush. The trap was set by a kobold sorcerer using illusions to pass himself as a young human child. The little pests were more a nuisance than a real threat and Hilguen succeed in capturing K’buk, the sorcerer. During the short battle, members of the another adventurer company came in to help. Calling themselves the Avengers of Gôteintor**, their leader was the cavalier Aramis D’Eris the Defender. The Avengers were in Baer’s Tower due to the summons to face the Goblinoid Uprising. Aramis was also interested in catechizing the local kobolds; in fact, tied to his horse there’s a line of the small wretched creatures. 

After leaving the Halfling Caravan, the other Hammers went looking for Hilguen. Hearing a sudden and strong rumble, they found a technomagic laboratory deep inside Empty Town – with the damaged sign “The Iron Tower” – run by the two brothers, exiles of the powerful Melkar Empire. The oldest, Raspar Vishrenko, sold some bombs to the party and charged them with a special assignment: recovering part of a technomagic machinery, lost in the mines north of Baer.

The Hammers regrouped in front of the Lonely Inn, at the fortified heart of Baer’s Tower. All the adventurer companies that heard the summons were stationed there, with the exception of the Erased Rune, a renegade dwarven mercenary company, and the Daughters of the Unicorn, a small amazon phalange, both camped out of town.

Inside the inn, the Hammers of the Dawn meet many other companies of adventurers, like the friendly Knights of the Mug, the fey Emerald Champions, the young Circle of El’dar and the weird Lunatics (a company composed of a masked half-elf of dubious sanity, a drunken half-orc brawler, a fugitive technomage and an axe-wielding duelist).

In short time, the Lovely Inn was the taken by a rowdy revelry, with duets of bards, drinking games, information (and spell) exchanges and even one marry proposal (to the total fright of Heltz, a fighter from the Knights of the Mug, who saw himself engaged to the barbarian wizard Beltia because of some obscure social rule of the vanyr). Things started to get rough when the amazons of the Daughters of the Unicorn entered the area. Hilguen quickly noted that a major tavern brawl was on the way and decided to withdraw his company. The Avengers (also leaded by a paladin) took the same action and followed the heroes.

Later, the Hammers ventured out of town to search for the lost technomagic device of the Vishrenko Brothers. Reaching and entering the mines (guided by a mechanical servitor), the party was constantly surprised by small but persistent tremors. Legends told that all earthquakes of the Mountains of Eternal Fire were generated by the nightmare-filled sleep of Gromunfang, the Red – the mythic dragon trapped below that range by a Luminar hero centuries ago. The party kept going down, without noticing that the tremors were not only getting stronger, but also following them. This important fact was only brought up when the company reached the technomagic device – a broken drill – and was instantly surrounded by a thoqqua swarm. The group succeeded in repelling the thoqquas (and also took rare organs from the one fiery worm brought down). Heavily wounded and drained of healing, the Hammers retreated to town. The technomage brothers were happy to pay the group with firearms, ammunition and small trinkets. The elf Heian was the only one against the deal, revealing his fey distrust of technomagic***.

After nightfall, the group slipt up again. Garet and his wardog went back to the Halfling Caravan; Heian spent the night talking with the fey of the Emerald Champions; and Drícia quickly became friend with the Daughters of the Unicorn.

*A little about Baer’s Tower: In older times, Baer was known as the Fire Gate, the only road through the Mountains of Eternal Fire to the west – specifically the riches of the Crimson Savannah, the Wild Lands and, finally, the golden hills of Cimeris, Realm of the Amazons. The War of the Dark Banners changed all that. Goblinoid migrations, kundravian demonic servants and curses, the giant serpents of the drasendór and other sinister weapons sealed the Mountain Road. The passage was protected from the Blaze’s heat and the mountain range’s volcanos by a series of warding pillars built by the wizards of Iktar. However, many of such structures were damage during the War, with great portions of the Road being taken by magma, earthquakes or the local salamander clans. With the closing of the Road, the merchant houses of Baer’s Tower disappeared. The Marshal of the Mountain Road, Garamus the Hawk, responsible for the protection of the east side of that region and of the city of Baer, decided to start mining to supplement the city’s now scant resources. He was able to found iron, copper, a little gold and even dragon-stone. Dragon-stones are elemental rocks attuned to fire, eagerly desired by artifices, blacksmiths, alchemists, arcanists and technomages. Once the Marshal found dragon-stone, he edited a Bill of Dominion, claiming property over the mines around Baer, in an attempt to restore the city. This didn’t stopped clandestine miners and diggers from exploring the region, but the local (hostile) elemental fauna dissuades most of such invaders.

**The Lion of Bronze, dead god of law, justice and perfection.

***A natural consequence of the fact that Technomagic devices are built with primordium or divine steel, an antimagic substance created by the Fall of Gods. Some believe that primordium actually is derived from the bones of the dead deities that fell over the Scar.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Leadership rules for Followers - A first draft

Recently I was talking with a member of my old group about applying a more troupe-style game in our Pathfinder/D&D campaign. The idea was that at high-levels (9+) the PCs would delegate many of their missions to their followers, leaving time to concentrate on quests of a bigger scale (possibly affecting entire regions, kingdoms, guilds, temples etc.), that demanded more time and developed on a slower pace (like political intrigues and military moves). The players in these campaigns would play both with their original character and their respective followers. This structure is – obviously – inspired by Ars Magica and led me to search for other games like Reign and Shadow, Sword & Spell (I’m also going to take a look at the B/X Companion).

Anyway, these were the main reasons for me to tinker with the original Leadership feat and its Followers rule. My Pathfinder campaign is now beyond the 10th level and I noted that Followers rarely have a direct mechanical effect on game sessions. Sure, they are loyal members of the PCs’ group, but they can’t go with their masters in the adventures due to lethality of CR 10+ encounters.

My aim therefore is to create a simple and abstract mechanic (without much bookkeeping I hope) to represent the influence of Followers during combat encounters. Cohorts are already useful and remain unchanged. These rules are not meant to simulate mass combat, but only skirmishes (with a limited number of allies). In this approach, Followers work almost as a template over the PC with Leadership.

New Rules for Leadership

Followers can only be used in the context of these rules in adventures that take place in the wilderness (above or below ground) and dungeons, castles or cities that have enough space for a big group of adventurers (in game terms, I believe that areas with more than 10ft. of width are a good guideline).

Leadership Score and Leadership Points
Your Leadership Score now has a modifier, just like an Ability Score. For example, a Leadership Score of 20 has a +5 modifier.
Your Leadership Score also grants to you a Leadership Value (LV) and Leadership Points (LPs). These points represent special moments in the combat where the presence of your Followers causes a significant impact.
Your LV equal your Leadership modifier (if negative or 0, treat it as 1), plus 2. So, the minimum LV is 3. You have a permanent LV, determined solely by your Leadership Score, and a current LV, determined by losses, desertions and wounded among your Followers.
Your maximum LPs equal your current LV.

The Leader and his Entourage
The PC with the Leadership feat can at any moment declare that he’s assembling his Followers to go adventuring. When he does this, he becomes a Leader and is constantly surrounded by his Followers (usually a minimum of 5 followers or ¾ of the total, whichever is higher), called now his Entourage.
The Leader with an Entourage has a +2 bonus on attack rolls, AC, CMB rolls and CMD. Certain skills also receive a +2 bonus (like Intimidate). This generic bonus represents his Followers constantly aiding him (like in the Aid Another rule). These bonus are lost if your current LV is reduced to 0.
The Entourage is always at a minimum of 5 feet and a maximum of 10 feet aside or behind the Leader. If they’re somehow dispersed, the Leader loses his status (and remaining LPs) until he spends a full-round action (and usually a Diplomacy or Intimidate check) to rally his Entourage.

Using Leadership Points
LPs are used on an encounter basis. They refresh at the start of a combat encounter. A Leader can use 1 LP (usually as a immediate action) to:
Negate Flanking situation for 1 round.
Suffer ½ damage from one attack.
Receive cover from the Entourage (+4 AC, +2 Refl).
Gain 1 extra attack of opportunity.
Negate 1 attack of opportunity.
Concentrate attack: your Entourage focuses their attacks over one enemy, granting a bonus to the damage of your next attack. This bonus equals your current LV, in d6s. For example, if you total LPs is 6, you would cause 6d6 damage. It is considered physical damage, rolled separately from your damage roll and normally doesn’t ignore DR. This requires a swift action.
Help the Party: You can also spend 2 LPs to grant a +2 bonus to the attacks rolls, CMB rolls, AC and CMD of the entire party for 1 round. You can also grant any of the benefits above (if applicable) to any one party member adjacent to your Followers if you spend 3 LPs.

Attacking your Followers
You adversaries can attempt to attack your Followers instead of you. Treat your Followers as having an AC of 10 + your Leadership modifier.
Certain spells can also be used to hit both you and your Entourage (see trigger-events below). 

Leadership Checks
A Leadership Check is made by rolling a 1d20 and adding your Leadership modifier. There two types of Leadership Check: status checks and trigger-events checks.

This check is made after a combat encounter to determine how your Followers are faring: if they’re particularly wounded, fatigued, with low morale or with few resources.
The base DC is 15 + the number of encounters that day that the Entourage has faced. Add a +10 bonus to your check if you spend an amount of magical healing equal to your Leadership modifier times your character level. Add +2 if you spent a number of rations and/or healing kits equal to your Leadership modifier.
Failing a Leadership Status Check reduce your current LV by 1. Failing by a margin of 5+ reduce your LV by 2. By 10+, 3. By 15+ your current LV is zeroed.

Certain situations require Leadership Check made on the spot. These rolls are called Trigger-events Checks. They’re usually done in the middle of an encounter.
The basic triggers for these Checks are:
Fear effect that affect multiple targets (usually more than your Leadership Score) or an area;
Area attacks or incapacitating effects, like a breath-weapon or mass charms;
Critical hits against the Leader;
An enemy uses a full-round action to attack specifically your Followers;
The base DC for this check is 15 + the number of encounters that day that the Entourage has faced + the number of LPs spent so far in the current encounter. For example: in the 3rd battle of the day, in which the Leader spent already 3 LPs, the DC would be 21 (15 + 3 encounters + 3 LPs spent in the current engagement). Paladins, due to their holy aura, receive a +4 bonus on checks triggered by fear.
Failing a Trigger-events Checks reduce your current LV and your current LPs by 1. Failing by a margin of 5+ reduce both stats by 2. By 10+, by 3. By 15+ your LV and current LPs are zeroed.

Recovering Leadership Points (LPs)
Your LPs represent battle prowess, fatigue, lesser wounds and low morale.
You recover LPs instantly after a combat encounter, as long as your Followers get a short rest of a few minutes. Fatigued, thirsty or hungry Entourages usually only recover LPs after a full night of rest with water and food.

Recovering your current Leadership Value (current LV)
Your current LV represent Followers wounded, killed or who had deserted. You have three basic opportunities to reorganize your Followers.
·         Make a camp to rest for the remaining of the day (or the next 8 hours). Roll a Leadership Check with the last DC used (either from the status or trigger-event check). If you succeed you recover 1 LV, 2 if your margin was 5+. Add a +10 bonus to this check if you spent an amount of magical healing equal to your Leadership modifier times your character level. Add +2 if you spent a number of rations and/or healing kits equal to your Leadership modifier. A preliminary Heal check (DC 15 + your Leadership score) adds another +2. Instead of rolling Leadership, you can roll Survival, Profession (Soldier) or similar skill.
·         You can spend 1d4 hours after the last encounter to attempt to rally missing or frightened deserters. Make a Leadership Check with the last DC used (either from the status or trigger-event check). If you succeed you recover 1 LV, 2 if your margin was 5+. A preliminary Survival check (DC 15 + your Leadership score) adds another +2. Instead of rolling Leadership, you can roll Diplomacy, Intimidate, Profession (Soldier) or use one round of Bard Music (if you’ve levels in this class).
·         You can attempt to recruit more followers in the next village, city or populous area visited. Make a Leadership Check (DC 15) for each week spent on this place. If you succeed you recover 1 LV, 2 if your margin was 5+. You recover your entire LV, until your reach your permanent LV, if you succeed by 10+. Spending your Leadership modifier x 10 in gold pieces (minimum 10) adds +2. Instead of rolling Leadership, you can roll Diplomacy, Profession (Soldier) or spend five rounds of Bard Music (if you’ve levels in this class).
Anytime after gaining a new level, you can automatically restore your current LV (until it reaches your permanent LV) if you spend one week resting and/or recruiting. You can do this only once per level.