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Year-End for RGS Publishing

Well, Ranger Games Publishing has had a decent past year and sales remain strong enough to continue publishing books. So, I am planning a new release sometime in the first quarter of 2021 but I’m not going to set a solid date yet on that. I am hoping to get at least two other projects out in the coming year which includes Storywise. The Black Teeth Adventure module has been shelved although I am planning a more economical adventure module for next year.

As for the blogs, The Cabal of Eight II campaign is scheduled to finish out by December. I am currently busy writing the blog entries all at once. New entries should start to roll out next week, the week of Thanksgiving. The final Corpse World Zombie Horror campaign blog entry should be in December as well. I also have Can a Sword Smile? article on the back burner for revision from the old Gnomestew version and that should drop sometime in January. As for outside articles especially on Hubpages, there are none scheduled or planned for next year.

Next year the company is going to focus more on publishing RPG material and the blogging will drop to a steady once or twice per month. If sales equal this past year’s levels or if they pick up our publishing rate will increase in kind. Well, here’s hoping anyway. Also, keep an eye out for the December promo.

The Finer Points of a FrankenGame

frankengame book

Games-Masters (GM’s) are already like mad scientists modifying their current gaming system often on the fly. This is through either in-play rulings (e.g. building precedence) or directly fabricating rules or guidelines. This is sometimes to patch deficiencies or fill in gaps discovered during play regardless of the potential for unforeseen consequences. Often, GM’s tinker with their current system adding in rules or new additions. However, they are often hesitant to rebuild or mess with the engine of the system.

However, GM’s can achieve some amazing results by doing just such a thing. GM’s can completely rebuild the machinery of a game with only some basic knowledge. Games-Masters can go further than simple modifications stepping into the shoes of a game designer. That is without stepping blindly onto the unsteady ground of game creation from scratch but still achieving something very similar.

Modifying existing systems is the gateway to creating one’s own full-on tabletop rules-system. However, like Frankenstein’s monster, missteps and using the wrong parts can lead to disaster. All GM’s who have ever run a few games know of the vicious cycle of modifying the modifications. All in service of keeping a campaign limping along.

The Frankengame exists in the realm between the patchwork game and game-creation as a sort of gateway. Here, like Doctor Frankenstein in the graveyard, a Games-Master can get closer to being the creator of their own system. They are starting not from scratch but from the constituent parts dug-up and snatched from sundry and various places. They will know the resulting system more intimately allowing them to avoid the vicious cycle mentioned above. In addition, this process sharpens the mechanical skill of GM’s allowing them to be better able to patch any flaws on the fly.

A Franken-What!?

A Frankengame, like its namesake, is created by taking the operative portions of a game-system referred to here as Modules. Then taking these from multiple other games and slamming them together creating a functional homebrew mash-up. This, in an effort to maximize your enjoyment around the table. This is regardless of whether you or your group are more interested in a more Simulationist or Storytelling gaming mode. Alternately, also useful if you and they enjoy a simplified set of rules or rules-heavy systems.

The newly assembled game should function reasonably well enough to be used as its own standalone tabletop RPG system. Metaphorically similar to the human corpses that contributed to Frankenstein’s monster, you stitch a Frankengame together from the working organs of other games. This is given that all tabletop RPG systems have functional organs that allow them to tick. They share a common anatomy.

Basic RPG Anatomy

A roleplaying game system as a unit is a collection of interacting rules that help to determine the in-game actions of characters. This at least according to Wikipedia. It is also a system of interacting modules, a package of rules and details, each module-package being a subsystem. Modules allow for the construction of in-game items and resolution subsystems. Sometimes they even add to a core resolution system modifying it to some extent based on circumstance.

The common Base Modules of any RPG System are the Combat System, Skill System, the Mystical Engine, and the Object Subsystems. The Mystical Engine being the governing mechanic of the magic & psionic systems as well as any similar such ideas. Object subsystems being the component governing such in-game objects as weapons and armor. The Character Creation system/mechanic can also be included in these modules. This is especially so if there are several different methods presented for players to create characters in the materials.

Base modules are subsystems that handle a specific portion of the game but still have a wide enough reach as to be able to have further subsystems within them depending on their complexity. Note that the more complex the longer it takes to make a rule-call or task-determination. As stated before, these Base Modules handle a limited but still broad aspect of the game. This includes such things as Combat. For example, subdividing combat into such aspects as Vehicular, Barehanded, or even Armed combat although generally it still encompasses these. Similarly, expanding combat with smaller sets of rules or increasing complexity by adding a subsystem to handle one of the different and more specific aspects/scales of combat. At the center of all of these modules and subsystems lay the heart of the RPG, the Core Mechanic.

Core Mechanic

At the heart of the game system from which these modules branch is the Core Mechanic. The Core Mechanic is the principle that all the rest of the system works on. A Core Mechanic is in the simplest terms a formula for conflict resolution. Conflict in this context being an in-game occurrence where an impartial decision is required. Core Mechanics usually rely on a single die roll with certain modifiers added and may even rely on looking up that result on a table or even the number of dice rolled as in a Dice Pool. Most systems wear this on their sleeves so it is easy to get right in there and cut it out so it can share its beat with your homebrewed monstrosity.

Core Mechanic Examples:

  • D20 (d20 roll + modifiers vs. a target number)
  • Talislanta (d20 roll + Skill or Attribute Rating – Degree of Difficulty; check result to Table)
  • World of Darkness (character attributes and skill “pips” together determine the Dice Pool of D10’s vs. a target number)
  • Fudge (uses 6-sided plus/minus dice and elevates character attributes rated in an adjective scale (terrible, poor, good, etc.) and lowered or elevated based on the number of pluses and minuses rolled)

A Games-Master/potential Doctor Frankenstein can simply add in or swap certain Base Modules or subsystems with those from another. Although as compared with assembling a completely new system, this counts more as transplantation. However, even mad doctors need some practice. True Frankengames are an actual fusion of at least two other games (hopefully more) and recognizable as apart/different from either of them.

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Why Would You Ever Do This!?

Most groups already modify and patch together isolated bits to their favorite systems. Especially when incorporating tweaks, hacks, and divers guidelines/tools from the internet. Taking that farther into Frankengame territory can enrich the Games-Master’s knowledge of tabletop roleplaying systems. But it also builds a custom engine that fits perfectly with their style of play. In addition, the custom engine can answer the needs and wants of the GM and their group. The reasons to begin such an endeavor are manifold.

A Few Reasons to Start a FrankenGame

  • To adapt the rule-set to the group’s play-style and wants, or to better suit the theater of the game (its world and/or setting including era).
  • In order to reflect the level of involvement in certain aspects of the tabletop RPG hobby, i.e. skewed more to story-telling mechanics or to combat and tactical based mechanics.
  • To push a game towards a more Simulationist version where accuracy rises to the desired level.
  • Or to expand the scope or potential of a desired setting or world to include things that another existing system already does, exceeding its current limits.

This last point can be satisfied, and usually is, by simply expanding the rules or transplanting specific chunks or modules. You can use your own invented rules or those borrowed to patch an existing system. However, this births something more of a hybrid system rather than a genuine Frankengame. A true Frankengame pushes even further across that line.

A Frankengame maximizes your vision for your game world, allowing a deeper level of believability (suspension of disbelief). Therefore allowing for deeper emotional ties and freeing you and the players to role-play more within comfortable and familiar bounds. These bounds better fitted to the tastes of the group. However, be warned this is reliant as much on the conduct of players and the GM as a function of system mechanics.

A Step-By-Step Guide to Building a FrankenGame

To begin the process you have to start with the most vital point of any roleplaying game system from which all else circulates – its core mechanic. From here, you can move on to the other points of concern. All other aspects of the game from character creation to all of the modules and subsystems rely on it. They may modify or use it in slightly different ways but all require it to function. There can conceivably be more than a single Core Mechanic. However, rules conflicts and exponentially expanding complexity result from this. Therefore, unless absolutely necessary to your vision it is ill-advised to add more than one.

This does not mean you may use more than 1 type of die in the core mechanic, just that the core mechanic remains the same. An example would be the D20 mechanic of a modified dice roll to meet a set target number. Conceivably, depending on a given subsystem you can use different types of dice or a variant on this basic concept.

What is Necessary?

Next, try to decide which subsystems or modules will be necessary for your game to both function and include those aspects, which you desire. Note that a module can include more than a single subsystem as well as ‘patch rules’ to shore it up. You also have to figure out what modifications are necessary to fit these subsystems to the Core Mechanic. There are 4 or 5 subsystems and modules needed for most RPGs. These are Character Attributes, Skill System, Item Generation, and Combat System, with the Mystic Engine coming in as optional. Most other tertiary systems are a combination of the aforementioned mechanics such as Character Generation and Monster/Creature Generation. These using rules and systematic processes connected to the subsystems to produce an in-game character. Their abilities embedded in or functioning within the applicable game modules.

Torch Proof It

A word of advice in these first few steps, keep in mind how disruptive players might take advantage of the system and its components to break the game. Running some of the still bleeding rules past a rules-lawyer, min-maxer, or power-gamer can help to mitigate their impact on a fresh Frankengame. Also, stay aware of any gaping holes or gray areas in the rule-set as well. Although you may want to build-in some gray areas. This allowing GM rulings to take precedence in certain areas, but gaps should be documented.

Once you have all of the guts for your monster you should begin to organize them. Take note of what parts need to be rewritten or modified to work with the Core Mechanic. Do not forget the other smaller parts as well. You also need to think about how these may interact. Compile a list of each mechanic with notes on how to deal with any inherent flaws. Keep in mind any original bits that you have that will help stitch it together. Drawing a crude diagram of inter-system connections will also help. While dissecting the desired parts from your material RPG-systems, you should throw out any patch-rules that act as connective tissue to other subsystems that you are not taking. However, make sure to keep any for those that you are.

Stitching It All Together

After you have all of the raw material on the table and have a good idea via a list, possibly a diagram of how to put it together, all it takes is stitching it up. After that, make a few test rolls and quick scenario runs to make sure that at least initially it’ll work. Patch-rules serve as your sutures to sew these bits and pieces together.

Rule Patching is a fundamental aspect to creating the Frankengame. It is adding in clauses often based on certain situations to plug up a “hole” in the rules. Alternately, they can also clear up any unintended gray areas as well. These patches serve not just to correct flaws but are also the connective material between subsystems so that they can function in unison.

Essentially the process for writing a Frankengame is as follows:

  • Decide on a core conflict-resolution mechanic (e.g. D20, D6, Fudge, etc.)
  • Pick the Core Stats or Character Attributes (the first subsystem) also note that attributes may multiply based on connections to the other subsystems (they are a function of these systems after all).
  • Decide on the other necessary subsystems (skill, combat, weapons & armor, social mechanics, etc.)
  • Mind interactions across the subsystems as surprises both unpleasant and extraordinary are within these in-between places. The attentions of rules-lawyers focus here typically.
  • Compile a list of the modules and subsystems (a connection diagram is helpful).
  • Make notes on what modifications and patch rules you will need to apply and where.

It’s Alive!

Creating a Frankengame helps to create a custom system for your group. This has several potential benefits. However, it does take some trial and error even after doing the work of piecing it together. Sometimes it will rise up and be super other times it’ll just strangle you. The main benefit of participating in this activity is learning about the construction of a roleplaying game system on a blood & guts level. In any event, it can give you a firm grounding in the basics of RPG construction.

In addition, exploring a new system with parts that are already familiar can be fun inside of itself. This is especially so when probing for flaws, gray areas, and holes. Even on a dry run of the Franken-system, the group should not be completely lost. The familiar parts may initially give players a steady base from which to explore experiencing genuine surprise when they stumble into new unfamiliar territory. Being the mad scientist type and patching together a Frankengame not to mention hacking established systems apart sharpens your understanding of how RPG systems work. Maybe grafting together a FrankenGame will put you on the road to writing your own original game later on.

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.20: Hideaway

Dragonfly & Unicorn Wand

Fauna (played by Jenn) woke up in a large round silk bed. She luxuriated in the smooth, cool sheets. The druid had taken a long hot bath in the tiled bathing room a few rooms over and enjoyed a hot meal and tea before bed. She sighed. Her mind drifted to the previous night. After following the Wasp and his apprentice Bumble, she had found herself standing in a vast strange hall. The vaulted ceiling was at least 20 ft. high and the walls smooth beige lined with magic sconces whose light instead of banishing them seemed to multiply and deepen the dull shadows that populated the blank walls. The brightly colored sconces were of blue, green, and orange stained glass in the shape of dragonflies.

Isis (Szoo’s player): “Uh oh is that the merchant guy’s hideout?”

Jenn: *roll*roll* “Um…”

The GM (me): “The sconces don’t ring a bell, as far as you’re concerned they’re just part of the scenery.”

Fauna was shook from her reverie by the rattling of the silver tray that Bumble clumsily carried into the room. Ilna dropped onto the side of the large circular bed and lavender sheets setting the silver tray on the bed next to her. It was Fauna’s breakfast, fresh fruit, steaming meat, fresh baked bread, a bowl of broth, and a silver teapot filled with herbal tea at perfect temperature.

Fauna (“just trying to make conversation”): “Wow! Where did this come from?”

Bumble: “Oh just the larder in the kitchen. You just reach in and it gives you food.”

Cris (Excor’s player): “Yup, of course, magic, damn mages.”

Isis (Szoo’s player): “You’re a MAGE!”

Cris: “Yeah! Well it doesn’t mean I like OTHER mages!”

Bumble seemed thrilled that Fauna was there but was not very forthcoming with where they were. Consequently, Fauna was suspicious as to their actual location. There were no windows anywhere in the place and the main hall seemed endless. Apparently, Bumble had learned to deflect.

Cris: “Pocket dimension possibly?”

Isis: “That’s what I was thinkin’.”

Jenn: “Yeah, I think so too.”

Fauna: “So, where is the… your master?”

Bumble: “Oh he’s downstairs trying to open that box.”

With that, Fauna leapt to her feet, snatched up her robe, and donned her clothes as she ran down the sweeping ivory grand staircase into the main hall.

Cris: “You sleep naked!?”

Isis: “Really sis?”

Jenn: “Well, yeah my girl sleeps naked! Duh.”

She rushed across the polished marble mosaic floor towards a large niche under the ivory stairs. However, it was crowded with book stacks and piles of scrolls. There was a green lacquered double-door in the rear wall of the niche. This certainly led to a library.

Cris (to Jenn): “Aw man, you CAN’T read!”

In the niche amongst the clutter, was the Wasp frantically unrolling and scanning various scrolls before tossing them carelessly away, the long case on the floor not far from him. Fauna again initiated some small talk and maneuvered her way to the case.

Fauna: “So, hi there… Xanto!”

Xanto: “Oh Hi! Hope you slept well, Bumble says you enjoyed the bath!”

Fauna (pointing to some scorch and blast marks on the walls and floor): “Um, the damage?”

Xanto: “Oh. Ha, ha. The case cannot be broken open apparently. Very powerful magic sealing it up!”

Fauna (unsure of what to say next): “Well, that… shouldn’t be a problem for, um… the Great and Powerful Xanto! Now would it?”

He looked at her with narrowed eyes and his cocked to one side. Then he snapped back to his cheery self.

Xanto: “Well, I guess since you’re Draega’s friends, I’m, uh, I just want to make sure the goods are in there y’know?”

Fauna: “Um. Yes. Yes we are Draega’s associates… friends. We do business all the time.”

Xanto: “Yeah. Tell him he still owes me for delivery of the chest, well, I guess I didn’t deliver that, but it’s this that counts. He owes me a lot of money. That guy! He has his fingers in every Ezmerian pie!”

Fauna (blurting out her sudden realization): “So he’s selling it to the dragon!”

Xanto: “Uh, oh well yeah. I am cut in for a small percentage upon delivery. Boy that went up in smoke didn’t it! Ha, ha! He had you guys keeping tabs on me; you’re not very good at it. Now where’s Bumble? Oh, hey! Help me with this!”

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She waited until the Wasp and Bumble were distracted by pulling out a heavy volume from an unstable stack of books then began running her hands over the case carefully and thoroughly inspecting it. The slight sound of a click, the other pair seemed not to notice, and the druidess opened a small hidden compartment out of sheer luck (Nat 20). She withdrew a tiny scroll of paper sealed with a wax seal and stuffed that in her robes before closing the compartment.

Xanto: “Did you find anything?”

Fauna: “Uh, what? No, nope nothing.”

This lasted about an hour or so Fauna reckoned before the Wasp stopped and stood perplexed rubbing his pointed beard between his thumb and forefinger. It seemed he had run out of ideas.

Xanto (his finger jutting into the air like a proclamation): “I need to pick up some… ahem… supplies! You!”, pointing at Fauna, “We will part ways after leaving here. Bumble!”

Bumble: “Yes?”

Xanto: “Don’t forget to blindfold your friend, oh, and, um, carry this, and this, this one, aaannd, this and that one.” He had stacked several books in her outstretched arms. “Okay! Let’s get on the move no time to waste! Come, come, come!”

            The trio walked a fair distance down the main hall until they came to a large mirror built into the wall. It was rimmed in gold with a sapphire and emerald dragonfly at the top edge. The Wasp reached into his robes and from what Fauna could see; he pulled out a gold key with the emblem of a dragonfly at one end. He stepped through the mirror as if the silvered glass were still water rippling and reflecting like quicksilver. Bumble quickly followed carrying the stack of books and Fauna jumped through last.

Before she could orientate her senses, everything was spinning, the Wasp and Bumble had left and the druidess found herself in a small dusty closet alone. It appeared to have not been used for quite some time. There was a small rectangular window high on the wall providing the only light. She turned and saw a large standing mirror behind her, the only thing in the large closet that was free of dust. She peeked out of the only door and found that she was somewhere near the back of the Bardic College’s library. All she could see were whitewashed walls lined with an unending reading table and case after case of books and scrolls dangling with so many chains and locks that she could barely see any of the actual reading material. Immediately, she thought to use the cabal medallion around her neck.

Elsewhere, Excor and Szoo met up outside of the Shield & Helm Inn. In contrast to Szoo, Excor was dressed in his “noble gear”. His outfit was a richly embroidered silk robe with a black silk sash at the waist and a buttoned undershirt. Additionally, he had on hard-soled black silk shoes with buttons up the side and pointed toes. On his head was a black felt pork-pie type hat rimmed with purple and a peacock feather. Finally, a new gold ring, a signet ring, was shining on his right hand. He still wore the magic blue cape.

Szoo: “Whaaat is this?”

Excor (feigning a regal attitude): “I am of noble blood.”

Szoo: “Okaay.”

Cris: “No. Seriously, I’m from a noble family check my background.”

Szoo: “Well, what good does that do us?”

Excor: “I don’t know about you but it’ll help me a whole lot! You just can’t kill a nobleman in the city! I have rights!”

            They went on their way to the White Prong to meet up with Fauna after receiving her Whisper message. Soon enough all three of the adventurers were sitting at a table discussing things over a pitcher of strong ale. It was not long before Fauna passed Excor the small scroll she had nicked from the long case.

He unrolled it after breaking the blank wax seal and found two sheets of paper, a letter and an ancient sheet of sheepskin documenting an item. After casting Comprehend Languages, Excor began reading the letter so the other two could hear.

Dear distinguished blue steward,

I hope the object has found its way to you with this letter with little difficulty. We had a slight complication with the hirelings who found it and some information may have passed from one of their number to persons unknown. There are others whom desire its power but we do not currently know who they may be. However, there is at least one based out of your city or thereabouts. We have hired a group of freebooters; they should be of sufficient strength and honesty to make this delivery. I am glad to hear my first letter has reached you and will follow a month after the cargo to make sure all is in order.

P.S. – The case is proof against dragons, one cannot be too careful, and not just magic will open it.

The letter bore no signatures. Excor set down the letter and picked up the documentation for the contents of the case. It described the item in the case as the Unicorn Scepter; it is a wand with a polished jet grip and a rounded azurite pommel stone. There is an alicorn mounted to it by a polished platinum horse head acting as a guard when the “battle-wand” is used as a weapon. Consequently, the wand was first found in an ancient tomb in Granfor and was created by an ancient Southlander Mage-lord. Further, the alicorn cut from a heroic unicorn warrior. Consequently, it possesses all of the powers of the alicorn and can cast the Control Weather, Summon Locust Storm, Chain Lightning, Summon & Control Rain, and Wind Step spells. There was a color illustration of the Unicorn Scepter alongside the text.

Excor: “Aw man, this thing is powerful. No wonder the dragon wants this thing.”

Szoo: “Yeah, we can’t let her get her hands on that.”

Fauna then told her companions about what the Wasp had said about Draega the publican of the Red Helm tavern, their favorite haunt.

Cris (throwing his pencil down): “Whoop! There it is! Aw, man! I knew it, I knew it! Never trust a f@#$*&g Tanglenite! Everyone from Poisonwood are damn crooks! You can’t trust ‘em! Just…I knew that guy was untrustworthy. Can’t trust ‘em!”

As a result, the trio decided they needed to split up and make preparations. They would use the medallions to meet up at evening when everything was ready.

Excor (leaning in): “We are gonna need some real fire power for this one.”

To Be Continued…

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NPC-Craft: Can An Onion Bleed?

NPCs like an onion

Non-player characters (NPCs) populate Gamesmasters’ game worlds providing a life source alongside the vitality injected by the player characters (PCs). Unlike PCs, however NPCs do not need to be complete characters. The level of completeness of an NPC is directly related to their level of intended interaction with the players. And to a lesser extent their role in the campaign or in a given scenario.

Those constructed to have some individuality identifiable by the players and even a modicum of believability can make the difference between a bland, artificial environment and a vibrant, exciting, living world. Applying layers of detail is a proven technique in NPC design that can payoff in spades during play.

The Five Layers

A believable NPC can be described as an interesting, engaging, and memorable character. This is in addition to the fact that they are likely to exist in the campaign world in the first place. To create a believable NPC the GM can employ five layers in their construction. These five layers are:

  • Archetype
  • Physical features
  • Gear (clothing & equipment)
  • Skillset (skills of note & combat style)
  • Personality

How Much Detail?

The first concern when constructing an NPC is the level of detail needed. This is preliminary and aside from a quick rundown of each of the five layers. Simply inserting a single generic item in each layer can quickly generate mooks (nameless fodder) or a background NPC. However, these will be suited only to limited contact with the PCs. The level of contact an NPC has with the PCs is important. This as you do not want to waste time adding minute detail to a character that shows up once, says next to nothing then has no other significant/repeating contact.

The Interaction Hierarchy

Game masters should have a basic hierarchy for their NPCs besides the main antagonist(s). These would be (in ascending order): background, foreground or limited interactors with limited appearances, those with limited interaction but the potential for multiple appearances, frequent interactors even if their appearances are limited, and those who interact regularly with the PCs.

The higher up you move along the NPC interactor hierarchy the more detail needed. NPCs can move up the hierarchy or become elevated by ongoing interactions even if not designed for long-term existence. These gaining added detail either acquired from play (shear improvisation) or details and minutiae added by the GM. Often this occurs as a response to player inquiries or in an effort to give the NPC extra story weight. After determining the interaction level of an NPC, the very next concern is Archetype.

Archetypes & Stereotypes

Archetypes, stereotypes, and tropes are useful tools in the hands of a talented GM. The latter pair are often considered cheap tricks (especially stereotypes). Stereotypes can if the GM is not careful or sufficiently creative, become cliché. And if the GM is not mindful, offensive. Archetypes carry the connotations of role, skillset, and ability. Stereotypes convey assumptions and preconceptions about behavior, motivating factors, and “genetic traits.”

Common stereotypes found in fantasy tabletop roleplaying include Evil-Murderous-Orcs, Suicide-Attack-Goblins, Bad-Guy-in-Black-Adorned-in-Batwings-and-Skulls, the Common-Thug, etc. These are trenchant and brief descriptions with an attached assumption.

Archetypes

An archetype on the other hand is a sort of blueprint. It is often built into or associated with various settings and works of fiction. It gathers together certain attributes. These presenting a general sketch of a character and possible patterns of behavior packaged together with general appearance. The archetype should be selected with the NPC’s role in mind. Stereotyping, on the other hand, is shallow shorthand communicating specific character traits to players. based on a large social/economic/regional/ethnic group. An especially useful tool when there is limited playtime, while in a pinch, or in a faster-paced part of the game.

Certain classic archetypes found in roleplaying include the Do-Gooder-Paladin, Prefers-the-Wilderness-Ranger, the Might-Makes-Right-Barbarian, and the Sticky-Handed-Backstabbing-Rogue among others.

Tropes

Tropes, another tool in the box, allow the use of a shorthand statement to easily communicate certain aspects of NPCs. These can be as short as a name for a fantasy race or profession. Perhaps a short description not containing a value judgment or opinion in and of itself but carried by familiarity. GMs can use tropes to influence the players’ in-game actions dependent on their reactions. If the group groans at the mention of specific tropes, the GM probably shouldn’t use it. Unless, of course, trying to raise the ire of their players. This actually holds true for stereotypes as well.

Examples of common fantasy tropes include the Knight and variations on, the Archer, the Spell-Slinger, Half-Dragons, the Scholar, etc.

Physical Features

The second NPC layer, distinguishing physical features and build, begins to grant the archetypal NPC more individuality. Race, in roleplaying terms, is a way of communicating the most general physical features and behavioral patterns to the players simply by attaching a label to the NPC. Race is a combination of stat templates and stereotypes promoting a general idea, right or wrong, about personality and role. Again, a simple mook character does not need much more than that. Maybe some equipment. But a well-rounded NPC would need a few more visual cues to deliver some additional information to the players. This information can include a verbal exchange. This is good to use with a simple encounter as well to drive home the NPC’s intentions.

An NPC’s face is a roadmap of experience particularly if they have had an especially brutal life. Acquiring scars, tattoos (which can carry their own symbolic meaning) or losing teeth, eyes, noses, etc. adds character. Prototypical pigmentation that carries meaning in the game that the players can clue into, is also useful. Even a deep suntan and very visible tan-lines can reveal occupation before the GM names it. Alternately, regional racial features can distinguish an NPC from the racial norm. For example, a lighter shade of green or very tall points on the ears. These hinting at a different origin than the racial norm can communicate some ethnopolitical information expanding the game world. Physical disability can also add layers to the character. This due to birth defects, the mutilation of war wounds, or more specific instances of physical trauma; abuse, ritual mutilation/scarification, accidents, or draconian punishment.

Gear & Clothing

Costume and equipment, the next layer, can be used to express the character forthrightly. Alternately, it can hide their true nature or intentions, heighten the anxiety of players. Or it can feed them hints/clues as to the wider world, the NPC’s fighting ability, skillset. Or reveal otherwise unexpressed aspects of the NPC’s personality as well as connections to other individuals or organizations. Mooks and background NPCs need only the gear to carry out their brief and likely, temporary purpose with perhaps some token details.

NPCs should have an equipment list comparable to their interaction level. As well as a role and an appearance that distinguishes them more as individuals from the lesser interactors. The players should take one look and know that these are more than just nameless minions. Personal items should be on this list, which can give clues to their religious beliefs, sentimentalities, and pastimes. Their costume can also reveal that the face they are presenting to the players may be a façade. Details such as neatness, quality, and the relevance of clothing style or equipment used to hide their true nature.

Here, certain visual tools, particularly heraldry, are very useful. An NPC warrior with a family crest or striking heraldic image across their chest is set apart from the crowd.

Skillset

Another very important point when building an NPC is what skills they have at their disposal; their skillset, not necessarily their whole skill-list just the ones they are likely to use in-game. This including their combat ability and fighting style. They should have the tools required to make use of these skills and implements cogent to their combat style. Variation in combat style can demonstrate personality during a fight even without any verbal communication.

NPCs can also have customized gear identifying the piece as their personal property. Also, keep in mind the symbolic significance that the weaponry you equip your NPCs with can convey. For example, a spiked club indicating a real brute and probably a powerhouse.

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Personality

Ultimately, personality distinguishes vibrant and detailed NPCs from simple mooks. The previous four layers can help to steer you towards a disposition that fits with the rest of the characterization. Alternatively, you can start here then make the rest of the layers agree with (or disguise) the predetermined core personality. Personality feeds into attitudes, reactions, and displays of emotion based on the surrounding world and towards the PCs. Personality can be conveyed in brief exchanges before combat, inciting comments, or during any kind of verbal interaction.

Quips and a nasty comment in the right place in an exchange can convey a lot. When it comes to straight-up combat NPC disposition will be reflected on many levels. This includes levels of aggression and the strategies, techniques, and types of attacks employed. Personality influences weapons and equipment as well. A character that desires attention or is a showboat will desire a level of flash or bling others will not. This can also determine how they decorate their gear. Comparatively, shy characters that have no desire to be the center of attention will wear less ostentatious clothing/gear. Likewise, a shy character who deep down craves the attention that they cannot bear to pursue may wield something flamboyant in battle like a scythe. The personal taste and interests of high-interacting NPCs should not be discounted.

Using Personality as a Tool

The GM can use an NPC’s personality to surprise the players. Subverting tropes using an unexpected personality or displaying contradictory behaviors to what is expected. This can also subvert the apparent stereotype of an NPC. It can also be contrary to what is expected for one of their archetype, especially through reaction. Just take the previous example of a shy character wielding a scythe. However, NPCs should react at least somewhat realistically to the actions or even attitudes put forth by the PCs. Take into account what the NPC’s goals are, what they can read about the PCs visually. Similarly, take into consideration any raw gut feelings, unanalyzed emotional reactions, and disposition that they may have. The NPC’s attitudes towards the PCs are of note. What the NPC has experienced outside of the players’ purview influences their opinion of the PCs.

Quirks

Another tool that should be used sparingly if at all is personality quirks. Nevertheless, an obvious quirk or tick can overpower an NPCs other qualities. It may become their singular defining characteristic in the eyes of the players. For the most part quirks, not to be confused with habits, have the effect of creating a character that has been set up from the start to be a one-trick pony. Obviously, this is not the best idea for long-term NPCs. Although it can help to single out a character that may only appear once or in a limited capacity. In this case, it will be their only memorable characteristic.

However, this can lead to gimmick personalities, which are essentially a form of bad stereotyping. A ‘gimmick personality’ is where all of the character’s actions and reactions revolve around their quirks or a single unique personality trait diminishing them to an unchangeable monolith rendering them utterly predictable. Quirks should be used sparingly and be reserved for one-shots unless somehow the quirk is not so ostentatious. Subtlety is required for use with recurring NPCs.

Habits & Vices

Habits and vices, unlike quirks, alter character behavior adding to personality depth. A habit is a behavior that the character will participate in as a matter of usual business with some regularity. The most obsessive types of which you could set a clock to. Some habits are dictated by occupation e.g. a clerk opening a store at around the same time every morning. But the primary concern in regards to NPC’s are personal habits.

Personal habits are those that NPCs have acquired in order to make their lives easier, out of a sense of security, addiction, or tradition. Personal habits at times are dependent on the character’s vices as well. Vices are behaviors the character participates in willingly for personal pleasure. Keep in mind that an NPC will carry the artifacts of their habits and vices as personal items. These are keys, lucky charms, mementos, paraphernalia, etc.

Names

Most NPCs do not call for naming unless of course, the PCs ask. And as unpredictable as players can be, you can never be quite sure when they’ll ask. Therefore, it is wise to have a list on hand so you can name NPCs on the fly. Be sure to cross off the used names so as not to have multiple instances of the same name in-game. To be fair it is probable to have NPCs of the same name. However, it is just confusing to the players during gameplay. Also, do not dismiss the use of nicknames or Homeric Epithets, which can be easier to remember in some cases.

Note that friends, family, associates, and contacts give nicknames. These are often terms of endearment that can be embarrassing to the so-named NPC and a potential source of humor. Nicknames reflect the character’s background to some degree. With nicknames, the NPC’s behavior and occupation/profession will definitely come into play in the naming. This does not discount a specific incident that may lie in the character’s past, however. Nobody lives in a vacuum and neither do NPCs. They will have relationships enmeshing them in a web that represents the social portion of the in-game world.

Relationships

GMs have several options when it comes to the relationships of NPCs and the strength of those bonds. Family relationships include relatives, parents, siblings, spouses, lovers, children, friends, and partners. At the very least, they may have comrades that could miss them when they are gone. Relationships are dependent on a character’s background. But instead of writing out a complete background, the GM can simply make a list of connections between NPCs and organizations referring to it during gameplay as necessary.

Motivation

All non-player characters serve a purpose in the game determined by the GM. They, as fictional characters, have no actual agency or motivation. However, to be believable they need to have an in-game reason to be doing what the GM has set them to. NPC motivation is often simple such as a service to appetite, revenge, greed etc.; for most NPC’s there is really no reason to go any further. Those that are higher in the interactor hierarchy however should have some goals set for them taking into account their personality and contacts.

These types of NPCs, those with goals, should display some agency. They take the steps to get the metaphorical ball rolling. This is done by starting rumors, setting out bait, paying off the right individuals. Possibly carrying out what they see as the proper action at the right time. The more goals an NPC has the more they should be fleshed out. This is because the more present they will be in the campaign.

The GM must decide, often fairly quickly, what an NPC is willing to SACRIFICE in the quest to achieve their goals and how strongly their motivation and personality fuel this desire to fulfill these goals. However, usually, only specific factors will push an NPC to the ultimate sacrifice. Such as those that are coerced with credible threats; their families will be killed if they do anything other than die in the attempt to succeed in their mission. This can elevate even the most generic mook beyond the Manichean model. This is especially so if the players discover this after killing them.

Bringing It All Home

Archetype, physicalness, gear and clothing, skills of note & combat style, and general personality are required to build complex, lively NPCs. This five-layer strategy assists in generating, and fairly quickly, NPCs with enough detail to easily suit their roles and cover their intended interactions with the PCs while keeping the game interesting and varied as well as deepening the game world. However, true depth results from long-term development arising from interactions and reactions accumulating in player memory (and the GM’s notes).

All characters within a campaign, PCs included (hopefully), grow and deepen with time. The longer they are played the more detail they accrue eventually growing beyond their initial meta-purpose. Meta-purpose being the reason the GM put them into the game and for which they were initially written. NPCs that the players remember and include in their war-stories are the true measure of success. A completed and fully developed NPC should have several layers like a fresh onion. Should that bulb happen to get diced, a few tears, and not just the Gamesmaster’s, should flow.

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Follow-Up: The Orc Lives Article Fallout

Hands of Design

There was definitely a reaction on the part of the roleplaying community to my recent HubPages article “Why Do Orc Lives Matter?” This is a stream-of-thought meditation on that reaction as a whole and on the most common positive and negative comments. The original reason for writing the article in the first place was in response to a spate of Orc-Posting and the counter-reactions to the reactions. I also stated this in my introductory post for the article.

Note the article itself can be read here: “Why Do Orc Lives Matter?”

Range of Reactions

I appreciate the positive reactions, which were not as common as the negative but far more thought out and valuable. The most interesting reactions included mentions of maintaining Orc Armies and the Sentience of Undead creatures. The latter is actually a subject I have on the backburner but that is a stream-of-consciousness piece that philosophizes more about the nature and sentience of undead creatures and ghosts than adhering to any tabletop specifics or sourcing. These are the reasons I’ve never published it or worked further on it after putting a page of it down. I might dust it off in the future though. Note that not all of the positive comments agreed with the main thrust of my article but were civil and thought out plus the respondents seemed to have actually read the piece in the first place.

 “Fantasy Wargaming and the Influence of J.R.R. Tolkien”

This document, an article from a miniature war game fanzine circa 1974 authored by Gary Gygax, was sent to me and I was aware of this document as I was conducting my research. However, it seems not to have a clear pedigree. At least at the time I was doing my research so I could not really include it as a solid source. The main conclusion is that Gygax did not like Tolkien or his fiction. Although it doesn’t really matter how Gary Gygax felt about Tolkien when it comes to my article.

All that matters is that he was an influence on Dungeons & Dragons and the “proof is in the pudding” as it were. Tolkien is named in Appendix N as an influence and the Tolkien Estate did sue TSR over the use of Ents, Hobbits, and Balrogs to cite some obvious links. So, the influence of Tolkien on Dungeons & Dragons is very well known and pretty much indisputable. Even in Gygax’s article, it says that both Chain Mail and Dungeons & Dragons were influenced by Professor Tolkien who originated modern Orcs, though his influence might be weaker on one than the other, it is still influence and a solid connection.

Negative Reactions

Most of these types of responses were pretty much knee-jerk reactionary garbage most made before even reading the article itself or including a commitment to “never read it” thus making these posts utterly meaningless and ignored for the most part or responded to with “Read the Article” which elicited accusations of deflection. There were a couple of nasty responses, which I reported immediately. A few responses were puzzlingly long, that rambled about the article in such a way and I guess trying to summarize it and nitpicking details from varying game systems that just were so unorganized and confusing that I completely ignored them.

There was also a peculiar obsession on trying to shame me because of the title (all came off as a deliberate attempt to shame me into silence however). So let me be clear and reiterate – The article is asking a question that needs to be asked of our hobby because of the same forces that #BlackLivesMatter has risen to combat are tearing at our hobby, it  is not gauche or insensitive and taste concerning this matter is irrelevant, the article and its title are relevant.

There were even those who claimed to have read the article then still used the same dismissals argued against in the article.

Conversations

Overall, the types of reactions throughout the social media platforms I participate in split right down the middle. This lending evidence to my thought that the tabletop gaming landscape is split or splitting into two factions where concerning this issue which like all fantasy fiction is a stand-in symbol for attitudes in the community on certain real-life matters if I really had to spell that out (I guess I did, based on some of the reactions I got).

I had put off writing about Orcs as I have about Liches, Elves, Dwarves, and Trolls because to be frank, I always viewed them as cliché and over-used. Embarking on this trip, I had no idea how complex Orcs are. This article was less a tracing of the creation of the modern RPG concept of the Orc rather than the tracing of evidence as to why the concept of the Orc carries such emotional baggage as it does. This is especially so for certain demographics of the roleplaying community and the effects it is having on the community thus the subject should be seriously discussed. So, in my mind, the reactions and non-reaction in some quarters were very telling of the general roleplaying community. However, I do cherish the civil feedback and criticisms that I have received so far.

P.S. – I do understand those who did not want the article posted in their groups and on their boards due to the content being “too hot right now”.

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Now In Print!

Why Orc Lives Matter

I’ve written another article over at Hubpages. This one I started several months ago in response to a resurgence in the OrcLivesMatter hashtag then as that died down, small arguments here and there erupted about the sociopolitical aspect of Orcs and if they were okay to use in games. After that, Twitter blew up with the “Are Orcs Racist?” question. So, I expanded my research and tried to hone my response to a razor’s edge.

The article is an exploration into the evolution of the Orc as concept from inception to #OrcLivesMatter that strives to answer: are Orcs a racist trope? The answer is much more complicated than you think.

Read it Here.

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.19: The Dragon & the Wasp

blue dragon that faces the wasp

Excor (played by Cris) under the influence of the Ghost Form and Invisibility I spells trailed just behind the blue dragon-shaman as he in turn followed the blue lady into the caves from the dusty tunnel. The blue-lady was sniffing the air, apparently tracking the others via scent quite accurately.

Meanwhile, Fauna (played by Jenn), Szoo (played by Isis), Bumble, and Xanto the Wasp were picking themselves up from the wet gravel beach they had landed on after sliding through a slimy chute and over the edge of a 10 ft. cliff.

Szoo: “Hey! At least she can’t follow us through that chute!”

Jenn: “Yeah,” looking over to the GM (me), “right?”

The GM (me): “Um, you guys know she can transform back and forth from human form so…”

Isis: “Aww crap.”

The Wasp chanted a spell and giant wasps appeared under him and Bumble his apprentice. The pair rose above the heads of their former two companions and began flying over the reeking green body of water before them. It was at this moment that Szoo realized that the Wasp was cradling the case. Szoo had forgotten to pick it back up after sliding down the chute distracted by his concern over the dragon.

Cris: *disgusted sigh* “Damned Wasp.”

Suddenly a deafening roar shattered the quiet atmosphere of the cavern. The four mages could see the glowing eyes of the blue dragon in her full draconic form just 20 ft. southwest of them on another bank of gravel & sand.

Excor moved in range of the Dragon Shaman, both still in the passage coming out of the previous cavern (R5 on the map) into the water chamber (R8 on the map). He began to cast Force Ram but fumbled the casting. His invisibility spell dispersed. Fauna rushed to the water’s edge and shouted for Szoo. The Wasp and his apprentice flew their steeds further north turning just in time to avoid hitting the cavern wall.

The blue dragon’s throat swelled and glowed intensely blue before she unleashed a massive blast of lightning at the two wasp-riders. Bumble easily dodged but the bolt hit the Wasp and his mount blasting it to smithereens causing him to drop splashing into the water below. Szoo transformed into a large black sea turtle and began to slide into the water. The Dragon-Shaman spat a lightning bolt at the ghostly form of Excor but it passed harmlessly through.

Excor cast Slow on the Dragon-Shaman but the shaman resisted the spell. Fauna leaped onto the back of the turtle as it slid under the water. The Wasp meanwhile was swimming to the beach immediately to his west his white knuckles still clutching the case. The Blue Dragon jumped into the water plowing through it like a giant shark heading straight for Xanto. She snapped her jaws at the turtle and his unfortunate passenger but the turtle dodged by the slightest margin (by 1 point). The Dragon-Shaman charged Excor and swung his quarterstaff at the adventurer, the blow passing straight through. The Dragon-Shaman looked up possibly re-thinking his combat strategy.

Excor backed up and cast Force Ram again targeting the Dragon-Shaman. The Dragon-Shaman dodged to the side taking a glancing blow. Fauna jumped off the turtle and clawed her way onto the beach near the Wasp (R7 on the map). The Wasp checked the case; it was intact and still sealed. The dragon swam up near the beach on which the Wasp and Fauna were standing rising like a titan from the water. The Dragon-Shaman began casting a spell but a stitch in his bruised side caused him to falter and the spell fizzled.

Excor cast paralyze II on the shaman paralyzing him.

The Wasp took a stance meant to increase agility and focused his light-starved eyes on the dragon before him. The Blue Dragon surged forward to stomp on him but he easily evaded the blow. Szoo as he was right next to the Wasp forced to dodge as well wound up on the opposite side of the monster from that of the Wasp. Bumble flew her giant-wasp-mount over the dragon’s head in an effort to get near her master. Grinning maliciously, Excor canceled Ghost Form and pulled out a magic dagger (+5) and stabbed the paralyzed Dragon-Shaman in the throat but failed to kill him in a single blow. Fauna moved around next to the Wasp.

The Wasp took the same stance and readied. The Blue Dragon blew its breath at both the Wasp and Fauna. Both managed to avoid the lightning bolt completely. Szoo transformed back into his true form and withdrew his Fire Fang (see The Cabal of Eight II Pt.1: The Checkered Eye). Excor again buried his dagger in the Shaman’s throat this time mercifully finishing the job with that final blow. Fauna dissipated into a cloud of mist as she cast Gaseous Form on herself.

The Wasp again took a defensive stance but was also able to quickdraw a scroll from his sleeve. The Dragon snapped her razor-studded jaws at the Wasp missing by a hair. Szoo moved further around to the opposite side of the dragon from his companions and blasted the dragon with a cone of fire from the tooth, to no effect. Bumble flew down next to her master.

Cris: “Man! They’re gonna run! Somebody get on ‘em!”

Jenn: “I’m on it! I’m going to stick to them no matter what!”

Excor looted the still-warm corpse of the dragon shaman. Fauna, in gaseous form, floated up to the dragon’s face, flew up her nostrils, and immediately canceled her spell.

The Wasp leaped onto Bumble’s wasp-mount and read the scroll. A golden glow surrounded him and his apprentice as they began to fade away. Reflexively the dragon sneezed shooting the druidess from one of her nostrils directly into the area of the teleportation spell. In a flash, the Wasp, Bumble, and Fauna were gone.

Immediately, the Dragon swiveled around and grabbed at Szoo who was barely able to avoid the massive claw. Meanwhile, Excor after packing away the loot in his portable hole twisted his silver ring activating the ghost form spell as he rushed towards the commotion. Szoo activated the Temporal Jump ability on his phoenix feather cloak and took a step into nothing completely disappearing. The dragon sniffed around then as she turned to leave, she spotted the faintly glowing ghost form of Excor standing on the opposite shore.

The dragon charged him and stomped around snarling and proclaiming herself “the ocean of the desert” and “the great queen of the mountains, pale yellow forests, and desert sands”. After a few minutes, she lowered her face to his ghostly visage and growled, “I’ll track down that lowly wasp and crush him slowly beneath my feet and then when I reclaim my property, I’ll find all of you!” Excor just shrugged and waved goodbye. The dragon stomped off.

Isis (to Cris): “Wow, dude.”

Cris: “Pfft! She can’t do anything! The Ghost Form on my silver ring lasts for over an hour!”

After waiting a few minutes, Excor started on his way back up unexpectedly joined by Szoo. Together they decided to rent a room for the night in a place called the Shield & Helm Inn near the new amphitheater on the corner of Arena Circle and Tourney Way. They paid the 10 gp for the night and an additional 20 gp for a security detail. Not soon enough did they both collapse exhausted, bellies full of wine and food, onto their soft feather beds.

*And yes dear reader, Fauna the Druid did transform into mist and then went up the dragon’s nose in the game. It worked to stall out one of the dragon’s turns although she did have a chance of falling back into the throat and getting swallowed. I did roll for that.😁 *

To Be Continued…

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Brilliant Botanics #3: The Dichromata Fruit Tree

The legendary Dichromata Fruit Tree, a pre-generated magic plant for Dice & Glory. It adds a different type of wonder to a campaign. This large tree produces a tasty and magic fruit with each half a different solid color. The tree also attracts flightless dragons and nature spirits that jealously protect it. The tree itself is not that physically formidable but it is highly valued for both its magic fruit and its bronze-hard wood. It is not uncommon for this tree to highly sought after lending another dimension to an adventure that includes one. Opposing adventuring parties, greedy villains, and evil mages may become competitors or enemies to adventurers that are seeking or have found one of these trees. Likewise, the magical properties of its fruit may intrigue the adventurous mage.

Brilliant Botanics is used at the discretion of Game-Masters to add variety to their game worlds easily and quickly. This tree is fleshed out enough for GM’s to drop it into game-sessions with little prep-work beyond reading the document. Finally, the Dichromata Fruit Tree is a great addition to any GM’s bag of tricks & treasure. Well, a treasure for those with an alchemical edge, a desire for spell components, and a sweet tooth.

Brilliant Botanics also includes a brief Magic Abstract. This describes how mages may use these supernal vegetables in their spells and potions as components.

Brilliant Botanics #3 – 220k

A miraculous tree whose fruit is worth fighting over!

If you enjoy my content I would highly appreciate it if you could

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Writing Books & New Campaign

Blog entries may slow down in the next few months. This as I am doing much more writing right now on the Storywise project. I am also preparing the Armatelorum for print through various outlets. Every other week I will try to post to the Actual Play Blog. I will also get the final entry for Corpse World published in about a month. Additionally, I am also starting a new Dice & Glory Arvan campaign. It is centered in the Eastern Frontier. I will be playtesting some of the new items from drafts of The Great Grimoire Vol. II and The Monster Magnus Vol.II during the campaign.

This campaign will take a little more time out of my schedule than normal. This is due to the ongoing quarantine here in Cali so I have to conduct it over the internet. So compiling my notes. learning the ropes, writing, and generated game items will take up more time than usual. Basically, I’ll have less time to transcribe the actual plays from my notebooks and writing them to the blog. I might also drop a few more Brilliant Botanics, Bizarre Beasties, and Genera into the Downloads section irregularly.

I may also have a full write-up and stats for Xanto the Wasp for the Nefarious NPC’s section. However, that one will definitely need some revision, so it may take a while. Plus, if the Cabal of Eight campaign starts back up after quarantine I have to keep some tidbits to myself.

Note I do have a Ko-Fi account and am currently running adverts. This is an effort to scrounge up more revenue for Ranger Games Publishing. This is mostly for editing help and artists so I can focus on the writing. I would be very appreciative if you could

or click on a banner not to mention maybe check out a book or two. This would help me out a lot.

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The Cabal of Eight II Pt.18: Be Water

The Grey Serpent Captain stood in the entranceway to the Red Helm Tavern’s barroom. Next to him were Jirek the cabal’s scribe and just behind him, the Grey Serpents’ mage who was scowling at Szoo. Gathered against the wall near the bar and the Grey Serpents were the blue lady (aka the Blue Dragon) and her four sword-bearing mercs.

Just past the bar was the publican Draega. Leaning against the bar Fauna (played by Jenn) was staring at the disguised Bumble. Before the bar at a table was Xanto the Wasp and his apprentice and member of the cabal, Bumble, both under the influence of a disguise spell. At a second table in front of the window opposite the bar was Excor (played by Cris) his lit pipe drooping from his lips. Szoo (played by Isis) was just behind him next to the window. Between the Wasp’s table and the bar were Direnda and the Black Eagle Pirates.

The very air itself was still, all the dust and smoke in the room seemed suspended in air as if time had stopped. Even the normal racket from the rest of the place had stopped and those not gazing wide-eyed with anticipation from the other room were filtering out the back way.

Isis: “Aw man, this is TENSE!”

Cris: “Just stay calm, be ready.”

Jenn: “Ready to do what? What’s the plan?”

Cris: “I dunno whatever, just be ready to do something.”

The grey captain began to pull his blade but as soon as the slightest shimmer of blade shone, the room filled with the sound of singing steel as both the Black Eagles and the Mercs pulled their weapons in unison. With a click, the captain pushed his sword back into the scabbard.

Direnda (pointing her magic blade at the Wasp): “THAT is our client’s property thief!”

The Blue Lady (motioning as if the case would just be handed over): “Hmm, Looks like you’ve lost your commission Draega. THAT is mine.”

The Grey Serpent Captain put his hand on Jirek’s chest and began backing out of the tavern with his two companions.

Szoo (almost hyperventilating): “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!”

Cris: “Crap! I was hoping they’d do each other in. C’mon, fight!”

Draega, with a dumb grin pasted on his face, backed slowly out of the room before disappearing completely.

Suddenly, the Wasp stood up, his disguise spell shedding from his bright yellow and black striped form, and a black cloud of stinging-wasps poured from his sleeves flooding the room. The place was in chaos; the mercenaries and the pirates were screaming and flailing their swords wildly. Excor leapt up towards the window followed by Fauna. The shields of the druid and Excor shimmered as a charge was spent. Szoo suffered a few stings. The Blue Lady’s chest swelled immensely as her eyes began to crackle with electricity.

Cris (referring to the black cloud of wasps): “A death cloud huh? Damned Wasp!”

Jenn: “What? Death Cloud?”

Cris: “Yeah, he summoned a Death Cloud, it’s a wasp swarm gestalt.”

Jenn: “Oh yeah, I remember those.”

*I used the creature a few times in another campaign a long time ago.*

Excor (trying to signal to his companions): “Get by the window, cut him off!”

The Wasp and Bumble ran right into the three mages. Without warning, a thundering blast of blue-white electricity filled the room destroying the black cloud of wasps and shattering the lattice window. The three mages could see the blue lady right behind the Wasp and his apprentice. Xanto had just enough time to smile once at the trio and then unleashed a spell in desperation. However, the magic got out of his control and the last thing the Wasp, Bumble, and the three adventurers could remember was a flash of crimson light and the sensation of falling in complete silence for an interminable amount of time before they came crashing down.

As the dust settled the trio of mages, Xanto the Wasp, Bumble, and the Blue Lady gathered their senses. The Wasp had cast a teleportation spell that got out of his control the magic going wild. The Wasp had teleported away all those near him and the front part of the tavern including the floor, the lower part of the façade and the front door. They had landed wedged into the alleyway just in front of Fauna’s rented house.

Fauna and Szoo ran to the brand new front door of their home. Excor cast Invisible to Sight on himself. Bumble twisted a ring on her chubby fingers without hesitation teleporting away in an instant. The Blue Lady charged the druid and punched her hitting her shield with a powerful thud. Xanto spotted the lost case. It was almost 10 feet from where he was.

Fauna drew her dagger and stabbed the Blue Lady, a violet filed of energy emanated from her gold bracelet and zapped the druidess with negative energy. Fauna moved away from the house. Szoo opened the door and moved in. Excor cast Shadow Ribbons on the Blue Lady but she easily resisted its shadowy energies. The Blue Lady charged Fauna again, her small pale fist whistling by the druid’s head, missing the target by a hair. Xanto charged to the case and bent to pick it up.

Fauna grabbed a dose of yellow lotus from her cloak and readied to toss it into the eyes of the dragon. Szoo used his Ring of Fearsome Form to transform into a hideous winged shape and shot towards the case. Excor used his Silver Ring of Ghost Form. The Blue Lady moved swiftly next to Xanto. In a panic, Xanto cast a teleportation spell and disappeared leaving the case and its invaluable contents behind.

The Blue Lady blew a blast of her electrical dragon breath at Fauna dispelling her last shield for the day. The druid responded by deftly tossing the yellow lotus dust into the monster-lady’s eyes temporarily blinding her. It did not have any of the poisonous effects that Fauna had hoped for, however. Suddenly, a distant roar sounded.

Fauna cast Gaseous Form on herself and drifted towards the house. Excor hovered through the walls into the house and Szoo snatched up the case and then flew into the open doorway. They had the intention of hiding out in the secret tunnels below.

As they fled inside, Fauna saw the blue dragon retreat away around the corner still in her human form. Szoo the last in line to get into the house saw a gigantic shadow lift off from the top of the slavers’ castle and fly in their direction. They barred the door behind them and then stood there for a second listening. After a few minutes, they could hear a loud sniffing sound, as if two large nostrils were investigating the teleported tavern wreckage in the alley. Then they heard a loud blast, the air from the wings of a dragon taking off. It had been the resident dragon, Gristle-Talon. The mages let out a collective sigh and then Fauna and Szoo ran down into the cellar.

Excor canceled his ghost form spell and ran to his room to gather his stuff. He shut the door to his room and began gathering some “essential” items and spell components. After several minutes, he hears something like footsteps just on the other side of his bedroom door. He carefully moved to the door and cast Scry: Simple. The spell allowed him to see through the door. He saw the Blue Lady and her shaman walking away from his door and to the cellar door. A gem on her tiara was glowing stronger as she neared it. Suddenly, she reached down, wrenched the heavy wood trapdoor from it hinges, and tossed it across the room.

Meanwhile, Fauna and Szoo were moving as fast and quietly as they could down the long hallway and into the caves to try and “find a way out”. They both hear a pair of feet following them. Szoo turns and looks down the hall behind them, with his heat vision he could see the Wasp and Bumble following them. Fauna calls them out.

Xanto the Wasp: “Heh, heh. So, um, we find ourselves in a mutual rock-and-a-hard-place situation, eh, friends?”

The pair of adventurers debated only briefly about what to do about them. Szoo wanted to kill the Wasp but Fauna was dead against it.

Cris: “Pfft! Kill the Wasp!? Good luck. That guy is probably pretty powerful plus he’s higher level than all of us!”

Jenn: “Then why doesn’t he just fight the dragon?”

Cris: “Because she’s a DRAGON, she has high spell resistance. She shook off my spell like nothing.”

The companions in the mushroom caves moved into a chamber in the north (R6 on the map). The cavern was covered in mushrooms and there are uneven clumps of giant mushrooms that were glowing faintly blue and leaking a clear, slippery slime all over the cave floor. Foothold was precarious over the slimy uneven floor.  Fauna inspected a pit that she found at the far north of the chamber. The other three as they moved past her slipped almost in unison and slid as they fell into a smooth chute like passage (the slime chute on the map). Fauna maneuvered her way to the mouth of the chute and yelled to make sure everyone was okay. They were fine so she jumped down to them.

Meanwhile above in the cellar, Excor watched as the Blue Lady and her mage descended. He quickly cast Invisibility I on himself and followed as quietly as he could as the pair found the secret door that had been left open, and they moved into the tunnel.

To Be Continued…

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