Wednesday, 22 January 2014

What I gone and done this week

Wherein I lead a group of 4E players and newbies into a hellish abandoned fort in 500AD Britain.

I ran my first play test of Uncharted Empires this week.

Test group were four guys from my regular 4E group and two new players (new to the table AND brand new to tabletop RPGs in general). After apologising to the newbies in advance for what I was going to put their characters through (my 4E group have played Unknown Armies with me before, they knew what they were getting themselves into), we settled down to play.

Things that happened;

1) The party were shanghaied by the King of London (I will admit, there are certain historical inaccuracies in my setting) into chasing a Roman codex hidden in an abandoned fort on the Isle of Dogs.

The Castra, including the positions of guards and ghouls - I'll post the adventure once it's been tidied up a bit

2) Half the party proceeded to LOSE THEIR FREAKIN' MINDS upon encountering a gang of ghouls chewing on the remains of the last guys to come looking for said codex. However, with the general consensus being that FRENZY was the most sensible reaction to the foul beasts, the ghouls got massacred.

3) There was a slow and methodical exploration & attempted looting of the fort, as to be expected from the murder-hobos in the group, and sincere role playing and character exploration from the (surely doomed) RPers.

4) An encounter with the ghosts of the fort's previous inhabitants, only witnessed by the more sensitive and new-age souls in the gang.

5) One of the newbies (a merchants son in nominal charge of the merry band) got greedy at an ominous statue and picked up 2 cursed gems which promptly turned into worms and burrowed their way into his body, despite half the party pulling out sharp implements and digging in to try and get them free. It was at this point that the character asked how many hit points he had lost, and I replied by telling him that his hand was half off, there was a hole in his forearm and his skin was itchy and crawling with disgust, so please make a stress check not to lose your freakin' mind. He passed, and the group decided to let the worms be (the 2nd option was on the spot amputation, but they decided against that for the time being.)

6) A descent into the depths of the fort yielded zombies (missing a variety of limbs before meeting the PCs, missing all of them shortly afterwards), more trapped jewels (which they wisely smashed), potentially priceless Roman scrolls (which they wisely stole), and a savage cultist in possession of both the codex they were after and a spell that caused the worms in the newbies body to burst explosively to freedom, resulting in the first of two player deaths at the table that night (the 2nd fell to disembowelment by zombie).

The group snatched up the codex and made their escape, and we called it a night.

Thoughts on the first session;

1) Britain circa-500 AD is a beautiful setting for the sort of game I'm after. It's an almost post-apocalyptic society, warring tribes fighting it out over an incredibly depopulated landscape. Tons of built in 'dungeon' environments - Roman ruins, burial mounds, (Stone)henges. Plus, it's the 'Dark Ages' - with so little concrete information on the period, who's going to notice the odd historical inaccuracy or anachronism between friends?

2) My party love sanity mechanics. They're awesome in capturing the present day, post-modern horror of Unknown Armies, and they seem to work just as wonderfully as a kind of ready made morale system in a hack n' slash fantasy crawl. But - in Unknown Armies you get to choose your reaction to failing a stress check, which resulted in a lotta frenzied frenzying on hapless ghouls and zombies during this session. My group suggested that they should lose some control over their reactions to losing sanity. As random effects and emergent game play are something that ties in nicely with the old school fantasy elements I'd like to include in UE, next session I'm going to mock up a randomised table for failing sanity checks and see how it works.

3) Percentile systems work great for eyeballing characters attributes and capabilities. It was as easy as asking 'Who's got a Spirit score above 50?' to know who would encounter the ghosts and who would be left scratching their heads at the rest of the parties sudden strange behaviour.

4) Traps are fun. Traps that reward unbridled greed with body horror and self inflicted injury are fun.

It's a trap!

5) Not knowing your hit points gets a unanimous thumbs up at my table. A little extra book keeping for the GM, but well worth it for the immersion. The look on the new players face when I described how his character FELT rather than how much HP he'd lost was priceless.

6) Everyone enjoyed fighting tough, dangerous enemies like the zombies. I'm working on a grid based combat system for UE which I'll be talking about more in the future, but for now I'll just point out a few highlights. It's an opposed roll system where attacks are declared, then defence is chosen (block, parry, dodge, retreat for now), then both parties roll and compare results. There's a lot of fun stuff I've been able to play with even at this very early stage - high dodge creatures like the ghouls were bouncing all over the place, retreating and then striking out, whereas the zombies didn't even TRY to defend themselves - but without having to face morale checks or worry even a little bit as more bits of themselves were hacked off, they became the most dangerous enemies the group faced in combat this session.

Plus, there was a cheer when the cultist's nefarious magicking was interrupted by a well placed spear throw, highlighting the high lethality of the system against people who choose to run around a battlefield wearing little more than bad attitude and a toga. 

Plate mail next time

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Uncharted Empires

I'm currently working on a fantasy mash up of Unknown Armies and D&D 4th Edition, inspired by the OSR, with a dash of Cthulhu and just a hint of Warhammer thrown in for good measure.

I've been fortunate enough to come back to RPGs after a hiatus of some 13 years or so. I play in an awesome D&D 4E game - Forgotten Realms, high fantasy, it's great. But I've been blessed with a group who are willing to let me try out all my gaming experiments on them, so I've also been GMing the odd one shot of Unknown Armies for them.

For a group of Forgotten Realms players, some of whom had never been in a game before our 4E group got together - I think they took the madness meters and psychotic magick of Unknown Armies VERY well.

So I've been inspired by a number of sources, to work on something that captures a certain feel, that emphasises and encourages a certain emergent style of game play, but is also something that matches up with my particular tastes.

  • Unknown Armies: My favourite game by a country mile. I love percentile based systems, I love the obsessions, the passions, the madness meters and the universe.
  • D&D 4th Edition: For the exciting tactical combat. Some people hate grid based battle systems - I'm not one of them.
  • The OSR: For the sheer inventiveness, the seriousness of the fun mixed with the gonzo and outre elements, and the sense of danger and risk of sudden death at low levels.
  • Medieval History: Because it's so goddamn fascinating. 
  • Cthulhu: Because everything is better with the Great Old Ones.

So this is what I'd like to put together with this mash up; a percentile based system, with mechanics for pursuing obsessions and passions to the point of madness. A tactical combat system that can work with a grid and minis. A system easy to mod and play with, a system that can scale up and down to fit in all the creatures and monsters and spells and worlds that our fevered imaginations can come up with. A game that encourages dungeon delving and treasure hunting, but can work just as well for political intrigue and exploration of the unknown world. And if I can fit evil books of magic and macabre Chthonic gods in there, all the better.


Hello, and welcome to Uncharted Empires.

I'll be talking here about role-playing games, my experiences and experiments with them. 

Hopefully I'll have something interesting to say, or you guys can kill me and take my stuff.