Our Crew Solution

A problem reared its head shortly after we began playing a pirate themed D&D 5th Edition game: there are a lot of NPCs in play when the crew of one ship boards another ship.

Assessing the Options

I looked at the limited rules about handling mobs in the DMG and disliked them. I then read a lot of advice on the subject, most of which boiled down to “avoid mass combat at all costs”, or “let the NPCs do their thing in the background while the PCs star in the important action.”

The advice didn’t work for me. I like situations where perhaps the PCs are struggling against their opposition while the friendly NPC crew have quickly mopped up the enemy crew and can help the PCs. Or the inverse where the crew is nearing defeat which forces the PCs to divert some or all of their efforts to save them. I could just decide these things as the GM, but that felt cheap as well.

Looking Elsewhere

Unable to find a solution in the core D&D 5e books, I looked at other solutions such as the minion monster rules in D&D 4e, which are workable but still require too much management and rolling at the table. I also looked at 13th Age which has excellent and elegant rules for mooks, and I almost adopted them until I found the entry for the Bar Brawl in the Creature Codex by Kobold Press (which is a fantastic monster resource and highly recommended by us rugrats). This third-party work gave a group of aggressive humanoids the swarm feature, allowing them to use their numbers to threaten the PCs and their crew while elegantly working within the 5e framework.

Creating the Crews

I took this idea and ran with it. The resulting crews and monster swarms worked well in play testing (aka: our campaign). We compiled them together, added some officers and captains to bedevil the PCs, and created some magical and mundane seafaring equipment.

The Seafaring Supplement contains nine crew stat blocks, including two sets of sea creatures. Challenges range from 2 to 10. From crews of undead to experienced marines, these stat blocks keep ship combat from becoming bogged down, while still bringing excitement to the combat. 

You can pick up the Seafaring Supplement on DriveThruRPG.


NAVAL MARINE TROOP

Little clenches the stomach of a pirate faster than the sight of a frigate carrying regiments of naval marines. These hardened soldiers are equally adept at fighting on land or the heaving deck of a ship. Naval marines are more heavily armed and armored than most sailors, and take a great deal of care ensuring their weapons and armor don’t succumb to the brine and spray. 

Potions Class with Madam Margareth

For our latest field trip the students of the college set out to find the magical ingredients needed for a potion. We used an adventure called Madam Margareth’s Magic Potion, and simply changed the setting from the Village of Glavost to the school.

Here’s the premise:

A young boy has fallen ill after eating a poisonous mushroom and the only cure lies in an ice cave at the top of a mountain! Can a group of heroes make it to the top of the mountain, face down a fearsome yeti, find the cure, and maybe learn a bit about chemistry on the way? This science based short also includes a fun experiment for everyone to enjoy.

Note: this contains spoilers!

Set the Scene

In play, the kids started out in the village of Belcassel where they had figured out that a griffon had been stealing the local farmers’ livestock. Further investigation indicated the former mayor’s daughter was using a book she found in the library to magically combine beasts into other monstrosities. Worse, she had taken the book and set out for parts unknown. Who knew what she could get up to with such a potent magical tome?

On their way back to the college, the kids and their teacher ran into Professor Kirby, another teacher from the school. She was being led by some confused and frightened children. Learning that another student had collapsed in the forest, the kids joined them. Using the directions from the scared kids and their own nature skills they found Cedric, the injured boy who had collapsed after eating a wild mushroom. 

Navigate the Woods

Professors Rattles and Kirby didn’t have all the ingredients to make an antidote for Cedric, but they knew frost stones could be gathered at a nearby mountain. The kids set out to get the frost stones and were waylaid by hungry wolves. After taking care of the beasts, they had a bit of trouble climbing the mountain, but managed with a bit of teamwork (both in and out of game).

Defeat the Yeti

At the mountaintop, they discovered a cave! The boys went into the cave and discovered the frost stones they needed. Gemstone the barbarian stayed outside and was alone when the resident yeti came home. Gemstone defeated the yeti in an arm wrestle and gave it some food in exchange for the frost stones.

the so called frost stones from the yeti cave

Save the Student

The kids then descended the mountain and set off to save foolish Cedric.

We knew everyone would want to be hands-on, so we made enough to assemble three magic potions. For ease of cleanup we also put everything on a cookie tray. Kelly has invested in various fun shape dice cube trays over the years, so she made the frost stones in the shape of stars. (The directions for how to recreate your own experiment can be found in the pages of the adventure.)

potion ingredient ready to go

They loved dropping the frost stones into the potion. After our conversations about diffusion, the rugrats predicated the potion would be blue. This is a fair guess since the liquid is clear and the stones are blue. The resulting purple seemed like magic. 

the magic potion

If you haven’t checked out any of Playground Adventures After School Adventures, we highly recommend them. They are short, easy to run for kids, and have an educational element called out in them.

 

Exploring the College

This whole not homeschooling thing is going okay. Of course it is day two, so time will tell.

We made dice bags this morning. And we used them this afternoon as our Rugrats started their first gaming session in our new campaign.

For those of you who are curious, we are using 5e Dungeons & Dragons to run this campaign.   

Tour the School

We used maps from The Fall of Mith: Mithos Manor as the basis for the school. These maps worked great for our purpose, but you could make your own, or use other ones you already have.

We printed them out and put them on the table so the Rugrats could visualize where they were.

The new students met their teachers (that’s us!) and one of the goblins in the kitchen. This goblin, the most civilized of all goblin residents at the school, asked the students to take care of a little problem upstairs.

Fight the Dire Rats

The trio of new adventures made their way into a series of storage rooms while their teachers waited in the hallway. 
Rugrat #3, a barbarian with a frying pan (we are using a club’s stats and just calling it a frying pan), waded in bravely.

“I’m good at this!” Yelled Rugrat #3 as she hit one with her frying pan. 

The boys followed in close to behind. Rugrat #1 used his shocking grasp cantrip while Rugrat #2 used his sneak attack and rapier. 

Learn, Learn, Learn

Math: recognizing numbers, adding dice together, identifying the values and shapes of the various dice, subtracting hit points 
Reading: locating, reading and recognizing words on the character sheet 
Storytelling and Visualization: picturing what was described, and playing along with the story
Teamwork Skills: finding the best strategies to defeat the swarm of oversized rodents

Incentivize

The Rugrats have learned chores and good behaviour in the real world will earn them inspiration points for the game. For those new to D&D, these can be used for a bonus on rolls.  We are hoping this encourages them to do things around the house with a good attitude. 

One Last Lesson

I’ve heard a lot about the pepper and soap experiment, and I figured this was the perfect thing to start our first potions class off with. It also served as the perfect transition out of the game, and back into the real world.

Potions: The Magical Substance Called Soap

I put the pepper in the bowl of water, then I put dish soap in a small container.

Everyone put their fingers into the pepper and water and watched as the “germs” clung to them.

Then we dipped our fingers in the “magical potion” and watched what happened when we put our fingers in the pepper water again.

I had them guess what the magical potion was, and then we talked about cleanliness, soap, germs, and of course, COVID-19.

Join Us Again Soon

The new students have only just started to explore the school, and more trouble awaits. 

Stay tuned: we’ve  got more adventures to come. 

Deadworld with Drama System

If you follow our blog, you may have noticed a few mentions of Deadworld campaigns. There is something we find enticing about these post-apocalyptic settings, and as a result, we keep coming back to them.

Recently I decided to try running a gaming session for Ken, which isn’t something that happens often. We agreed to take a break from our current campaign, one set in a series of hidden, magical kingdoms, and have a one-off gaming session.

Why the Drama?

After some consideration, I decided to use DramaSystem (published in Hillfolk by Pelgrane Press) as our recent attempts with it have created a lot of tension and allow us to focus on the interpersonal drama, something I thought would be ideal in this setting.

Something I love about DramaSystem is the ability to share game-mastering duties, and for all participants to feel like they have a say in the story.

As it turns out, the one-off session really took off, and between the two of us, the game is going as smoothly as any game set in a world that is falling apart would.

Interested in hearing how it went? Below is the introduction as the main character, played by Ken, made his way to his girlfriend.

Have you used DramaSystem? Ever tried a post-apocalyptic setting? 


The Beginning

The crunching sound of metal in the distance made Andy jump as he pedalled down the abandoned side road. The silence that followed was unnerving but he kept pedalling, forced to move toward where the sound came from. He wiped the sweat from his brow.

“They’re evacuating us, Andy. I’ll wait as long as I can, but we have to go.”

Her voice still rung in his ears.

“Please, Andy. Please get here.”

The vehicle came into view up ahead.  It was a small blue car, and the front of it was now wrapped around the telephone pole on the left-hand side of the road. Smoke billowed from the engine. Andy slowed down, hopping off his bike and walking it closer. He kept his distance from the vehicle but peered in the half open windows from the other side of the street. He could see still figures in both front seats.

“Hello?” he called out cautiously.

Silence.

“Hello? You alive in there?” he called again.

This time he heard a groan from in the vehicle. Setting his bike down in the middle of the road, Andy glanced around before approaching the car carefully. The body in the passenger seat moved, groaning again as he raised his head.

“Hey, you okay?” Andy asked, lowering his shoulder bag to the ground next to his bike before moving around to the passenger side of the car cautiously.

“Oh, my head,” murmured the passenger. Andy still couldn’t get a good look at him. He was wearing a dark blue hoodie, and his face was twisted in a grimace of pain.

“Alright, but you’re okay? You’re alive?” he asked. His heart was pounding in his chest, but he was standing still, poised to move forward to help, or run toward his bike.

“Yeah, yeah,” responded the man, a bit disorientated. He sat up now, rubbing his head and grimacing once more. Andy couldn’t see any blood on him. The airbag had deployed and the man seemed dazed more than anything else. Andy moved forward quickly and opened the passenger side door as the driver’s hand twitched.

“Your friend, is he okay?” asked Andy, glancing the stirring figure nervously.

“I don’t know. Chris?” the man asked, turning to look over at the driver. The body twitched again, and then suddenly sat straight up before vomiting a black liquid all over the dash and deflated airbags. A guttural howl emerged from his mouth and he turned to Andy and the passenger.

“Come on, you’ve got to get out of the car,” Andy said frantically, pulling a pocket knife.

“Chris?” the passenger asked, looking toward the driver’s seat in horror while fumbling with his seat belt clasp.

“Get out! Get out!” Andy called, slashing the seat belt with the knife.

He grabbed the groggy passenger and tried to pull him free of the car as the driver lunged toward the passenger seat screaming.  A hand reached out and grabbed Andy’s arm as he pushed the deflated airbag out of the way. The driver, his face twisted in rage, lunged toward the pair. He was not restrained by a seat belt, and the grip on Andy’s arm was tight. Andy, grip still tight on the passenger, tried to pull away. The driver’s leg seemed to be caught and he howled again, mouth wide open. Andy gritted his teeth and wrenched both himself and the passenger free. The pair tumbled to the ground outside the vehicle, and Andy managed to kick the door closed.

He scrambled to his feet, holding a hand out for the man, who took it and stood up himself with Andy’s assistance. The pair backed away from the vehicle as the drive let out another guttural howl and began to feverishly alternate between banging on the car window and extending his arms out of it toward the two young men.

“What’s your name?” asked Andy glancing at the stranger and back at his bike. He quickly picked it up, setting the tires on the asphalt and straightening the strap of the side bag he had slung over his backpack. The weight of the bags was heavy, but he knew the contents could be useful.

“Matt,” said the man in shock, staring at the car. He was wearing well-worn jeans and a pair of beat-up sneakers with his hoodie.

“Where you going, Matt?” asked Andy, wheeling his bike away from the vehicle. “We should walk while we do this,” he added.

“Oh, uh, away from here….” Matt trailed off, running a hand through his short hair.

Andy nodded and glanced back to see Matt making his way to the trunk of the car.

“What are you doing? We have to go,” Andy said, glancing nervously at the angry driver.

“My bag, it’s in there,” he gestured at the trunk.

“What do you have in there, man?” asked Andy, eyeing the driver who was still flailing his arms angrily out of the car window.

“My bag, it’s got food in it, and my stuff,” he replied, looking helplessly at the lock and then back at the driver.

“Yeah, you can probably find more food, lets just keep going,” said Andy.

Matt looked at the trunk again and glanced doubtfully at Andy.

The thing that was once the driver let out another angry scream. His head was now out of the window, his arms reaching for Andy, who stood a good ten feet away.

“Matt, let’s go!” said Andy sharply. “He’s going to get out of there at some point and he sounds pissed. Let’s get a move on.”

Matt shook his head, almost coming to and nodded. The two of them started off down the road, Andy pushing his bike and shouldering his large backpack and shoulder bag, Matt empty handed.

The two of them walked briskly in silence for a few minutes, the hostile screams of the driver still echoing down the abandoned side road.

“What happened?” asked Andy. “Why’d you crash?”

A look came across Matt’s face. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. He shook his head and opened his mouth once more, almost not believing what he was about to say.

“A wasp.”

Andy frowned and looked over at the man. He had to be about seventeen, a few years younger than Andy. He was wearing jeans and t-shirt, which was now flecked with dirt and a few pieces of grass from the fall out of the car. The boy ran his hand absently through his short blonde hair again and winced as his hand ran over a bruise on his head.

“A wasp?” Andy clarified.

“A wasp,” Matt confirmed. “Chris is,” he started, “was, really afraid of them. Freaked out every time one came near him. One flew into the car while we were driving and he started yelling and flailing his arms around at it. Next thing I knew that pole was coming right at us.”

Andy looked horrified.

There a moment of silence.

“Where you heading to?” he asked Matt.

The boy gestured north, toward the direction Andy had come from.

“We were trying to get out of there,” he said. “It was getting bad. No real destination though.”

As if on cue, a series of small explosions could be heard from that direction.

“We need to pick up the pace,” said Andy worriedly.

Matt nodded and tried to speed up, still a bit shaken from the recent accident. He rubbed his arms.

“Where are you going?” he asked conversationally.

“Olympia,” said Andy thoughtfully.

“Yeah, you got people there?” he asked.

“Hopefully,” Andy replied.

He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the end of the call.

“Andy, there’s something I have to tell you.”

Her usually confident voice had sounded scared, pleading. And then the line went dead.

What did she need to tell him? Will he make it to her in time?

More Drama System Themes

Our new campaign is high on the drama, and what better system for interpersonal conflict than DramaSystem? This ruleset is easy to follow, easy to implement, and can honestly (IMO) be laid over-top of just about any game system, all in the name of extra drama, better character development, and a break from drawn out battle sequences. (You can read more about that here!)

Quick recap: each session is like an episode of TV, and has its own theme. There are lots in the book, but we’ve come up with a few more (and a few more before that). These themes worked particularity well for us in a game of loss, rebirth, and struggling to find your place in a dying world (aka zombies!!!)

Themes

  • Move
  • Stay
  • Fever
  • Limits
  • Weight
  • Healing
  • Searching
  • Hungry
  • Shift
  • Loyalty
  • Secrets
  • Heartbreak

Examples

The theme of the episode is pulled into each scene in various ways.

Stay

Our second episode had our second-in-command, the camp doctor, trying to stay the execution of hundreds of civilians by delaying the turnover of a list of less-valuable individuals to the commander. The doctor’s assistant learned of the list and had to decide if she should get her family and extended family out of the camp into the unknown, or stay and stick it out knowing the risks. The troublesome daughter needed confirmation from the doctor she should stay quiet about the small thefts of food from the kitchen. The doctor’s assistant and her baby-daddy were split up suddenly before a run (despite assurances such things wouldn’t happen). They forced the commander of the camp, in a later scene, to relent and promise not to let it happen again. And finally, the doctor assured her assistant that if things get bad and the camp falls apart, she’d flee with her apprentice and help her deliver the baby.

Hungry

A riot ensued at camp. The civilians became convinced the military leadership was eating better and more food than them. An NPC became hungry for blood as she sought vengeance. The second in command became hungry for power and his chance to claim the new outpost for his own. The mechanic demanded the local gang leader pay out his cut of black market profits in rations due to the apparent food shortage. The local gang leader, for his part, redoubled his efforts hiding stolen rations, and the spokesperson for the civilians became hungry for information when it became apparent the leader of the camp was hiding important information.

Shift

In this episode the raid commander tried to convince his lover she should leave her baby-daddy for him because he can take care of her better; he pushed her too hard and she pulled away. The mechanic explained to a girl he’d been looking out for he was leaving for the new camp and wouldn’t be seeing her anymore (so he could leave her). She shifted the power around, denying him and convincing him to get her to the new camp as well (even approaching his daughter to enlist her help). The commander of the old camp had the tables turned on her when her new second in command had her arrested and was going to have her executed. Almost the entire named cast of the old camp shifted over to the new one through a raid/rescue mission by two key characters. The civilian leader blackmailed the commander of the new camp into treating her as an equal, shifting the balance of power (at least for awhile). Our raid commander held his ground when his superior tried to convince him to think of killing his lover’s baby-daddy.

 

“Power is Power.”

One of the things I love about this game system is the tv-style drama. It reminds me of everything I love about teen drama shows, or even something like Game of Thrones. No one can keep all the power for long. Everything is shifting with each character’s own desire, goals and relationships are at the forefront of their minds. If another character can take advantage of them, you are out in the cold.

“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

And since everyone is scheming, someone is bound to foil your plot, even if they were intending to get to the same result. The number of times the characters have inadvertently stabbed each other in the back may rival the number of times they’ve done it on purpose in this campaign. If only they’d communicate with each other… but then, where would the drama be?


Have you played Hillfolk or otherwise used the DramaSystem?
What are your thoughts on it?

The Dagger of all Daggers

Our interest in writing RPG products stems from our love of playing RPGs. One of my favorite campaigns, and certainly our most epic one, is Way of the Wicked. Written by Gary McBride of Fire Mountain Games, this adventure path allows the PCs to be anything but good. (Specifically, it actually recommends they all be lawful evil.)

The Bull & The Bear coverSome years ago, we ran through this campaign, taking the time to explore the cities more than the adventure path may have intended, which is where the Bull and the Bear was born. The PCs began amassing a reasonable collection of taverns, some of which have been published by us since.

We enjoyed dropping a fair few 3rd party products into this PFRPG campaign, including the 101 New Skill Uses by Rite Publishing and Legendary VIII: Evil by Sam Hing and published by Purple Duck Games.

It was in the latter we pulled Black Spider – a magical weapon (and a then some). Though intended for use by the BBEG, it was allowed in our evil solo campaign. (I should note here this product received a poor review and indeed has some glaring oversights.)

This blade was legendary in the course of the campaign. One moment I still clearly remember was when many of the party had fallen, with only the rogue (myself) and our anti-paladin remaining. Both of us were near the death. The righteous paladin still stood before us, and with the blade knocked from my hand, and my companion drawing her last breath, I was sure we were done for. Then this diminutive construct unleashed its fury upon the virtuous knight, scuttle across the floor before actually puncturing through his calf (hello double nat 20!). Perhaps it stole a bit of the thunder from the characters, but it earned this weapon much favor from its master.

Very recently we decided to revisit a version of Way of the Wicked: an alternate reality with some minor and some glaring differences. All of the PCs are rogues. The valiant Mitrans in the country are unknowingly demon worshippers (those pesky demons and their deception filled long game!). Our PCs did not start in prison (which made sense, but if you haven’t played WotW as intended, give at least the first module a go – it’s amazing!).

Some things have stayed the same, and one such similarity is the presence of Black Spider. With the switch to 5th Edition as the framework (as well as some of those glaring oversights), we’ve had to adapt the blade. Here is our modified version below. Again, a big shout out to Purple Duck Games for creating an amazing (and overpowered!) collection of weapons, as well creating one of my favorite weapons to date.


BLACK SPIDER

Weapon (dagger), legendary (requires attunement by a creature that meets all the listed requirements)

Requirements. A creature that wishes to attune itself to Black Spider must meet the following criteria.

  • Any evil alignment.
  • Proficiency in Dexterity (Stealth) checks.
  • Sneak Attack feature.

Black Spider grows in power with the creature it is attuned to. When a creature attunes itself to Black Spider, it gains all of the benefits listed for a creature of its current level.

  • When you reach 2nd level, Black Spider gains a +1 bonus to attack and damage. The dagger maintains a telepathic bond with you, and regularly urges you to commit acts of violence.
  • When you reach 4th level, Black Spider can animate itself and act independently from you. When it animates, the barbs lining the blade twist and act as spidery legs. Black Spider maintains its telepathic bond with you and follows your instructions, unless it can cause more carnage by doing something else. Black Spider’s starting statistics are below.
  • When you reach 6th level, the telepathic bond between you and Black Spider allows you to see and hear everything occurring within 60 feet of the dagger as an action. This effect can be ended as a bonus action. While using this feature, you have disadvantage on ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls until the start of your first turn after ending the effect.
  • When you reach 8th level, Black Spider can urge you to overcome certain conditions. If you fail a saving throw and become charmed, frightened, paralyzed, or stunned, you can use your reaction to reroll the saving throw. If a condition allows a new save to overcome it at the end of each of your turns, you have advantage on it. If you are unconscious, Black Spider can use a bonus action to deal 1 hit point of piercing damage to wake you. Black Spider Enhancement: Armor Class increases by +1 (natural armor), Hit Points increase by 7 (3d4), Dexterity increases by 2 (add +1 to Armor Class,stealth skill, and Stab action to hit and damage), Challenge increases to 2 (450 XP), Sneak Attack damage increases to 14 (4d6), Multiattack action is added adding one additional attack per round. Black Spider’s CR 2 version is below for your convenience.
  • When you reach 10th level, Black Spider’s bonus to attack and damage increases to +2. Black Spider Enhancement: Stab action to hit and damage increase by +1.
  • When you reach 12th level, attacks made with Black Spider score a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20. Black Spider Enhancement: Hit points increase by 7 (3d4), Challenge increases to 3 (700 XP), Sneak Attack damage increases to 21 (6d6).
  • When you reach 14th level, when you make a sneak attack against a creature, you can gain half of the sneak attack damage as temporary hit points. Once this feature has been used, it can’t be used again until you have finished a short or long rest.
  • When you reach 16th level, if you have surprise when you make your first attack with Black Spider in an encounter, you deal maximum damage. Black Spider Enhancement: Hit Points increase by 7 (3d4), Challenge increases to 4 (1,100 XP), Sneak attack damage increases to 28 (8d6)
  • When you reach 18th level, Black Spider’s bonus to attack and damage increases to +3. Black Spider Enhancement: Stab action to hit and damage increase by +1
  • When you reach 20th level, if you are hidden from your target when you hit it with Black Spider, it must succeed at a Constitution saving throw with a DC equal to 8 plus your Dexterity modifier plus your proficiency bonus or die. Once you have used this feature, you must finish a long rest before you can use it again. Black Spider Enhancement: Proficiency bonus increases by +1 (affecting skills, and Stab action to hit), Hit Points increase by 7 (3d4), Dexterity increases by 2 (adding +1 to AC, Stealth skill, Stab action to hit and damage), Sneak Attack damage increases to 35 (10d6), Black Spider can make three attacks per turn with Multiattack.

Black Spider is both greedy and jealous. You have disadvantage if you make a melee attack with a weapon that is not Black Spider. This penalty does not apply if your attack is made with a weapon in your other hand when you are fighting with two weapons.

 

 

 


What’s the most memorable weapon you’ve used in your game?

So Many Pets, So Little Time

The Dire Rugrat Family Tails of Equestria Campaign, Part 1

Who’s Who in Equestria

Excitement was high in the Dire Rugrat household, Daddy Rugrat had read the Tales of Equestria rulebook, and all three rugrats, as well as Mummy Rugrat, were excited to make their PCs (pony characters) and start adventuring in Equestria. I went to the River Horse website, downloaded the PC sheets, one for each type of pony, and everyone set to work.
Rugrat 3 created Cup Cake, a riotously coloured unicorn with purple head and flanks, green legs, black eyes and horn, crimson tail, and I think a green mane. Cup Cake’s cutie mark is a diamond on a purple and green cake… maybe. It’s hard to be certain. Her chosen talent is the ability to create force fields, and her very appropriate quirk is a short attention span; her Element of Harmony is Magic, which has yet to have much effect on her…
Rugrat 2 created Thunder Gust, a pegasus with green body and blue mane and tail. His cutie mark is three clouds with lightning shooting out of them, and his Element of Harmony is Honesty.
Against my better judgment, Rugrat 1 was allowed to create a changeling (rules for changeling characters are in The Bestiary of Equestria [review forthcoming], which Rugrat 1 was expressly asked to not read…. but he did anyway, because children know it is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission…) named Shiftwing. Shiftwing chose laughter as his Element of Harmony, a fear of bees (just like his player) as his Quirk, and chose to upgrade his innate Morph Talent rather than selecting a second one. Rugrat 1 will be a rules lawyering powergamer in the future, I fear… but we will love him anyway.
Finally, Mummy Rugrat created Calm Heart, a light brown earth pony with darker brown mane and tail. Her Element of Harmony is Kindness, her cutie mark is a heart with two crossed band-aids set on it, and she selected Healing Touch as her Talent, and Messy as her Quirk.

A Day at the Market

The game started with the PCs at the weekend market. Calm Heart was looking for more bandages, Thunder Gust wanted some eggs, Shiftwing was searching for a solar powered lamp, and Cup Cake wanted toys. So many toys. While they were shopping, they came across a cute, but very rude bunny. The ponies interacted with the aggressive rodent in humorous fashion, until his pony, the famous pegasus Fluttershy, found them together. Realizing their obvious animal wrangling skills, and needing someone to take care of the Mane Six’s pets while they went off adventuring, she recruited them like a a shy, pony Gandalf asking Bilbo Baggins to give up his comfortable hobbit life. The PCs agreed of course, as there’d be no game otherwise, and they visited Fluttershy at her home outside the Everfree Forest.

Look at the cute little bunnies!

Everything Goes Wrong

At Fluttershy’s house, the PCs met the rest of the Mane Six, the most famous ponies in all of Equestria! And after a brief introduction to the Mane Pets, the Six were on their way.
It didn’t take long for everything to go wrong. The unruly pets, spurred by the very poorly named Angel Bunny, misbehaved. The PCs attempted to treat them to their favourite things, Cup Cake obsessively looked for the chocolate mice that she knew were the favourite of Twilight Sparkle’s owl, Owlowiscious, but Calm Heart stepped on Angel’s tail and set the foul tempered rodent off! He bounced through the house, riling up the already agitated pets. They smashed things, knocked over furniture, and finally escaped out the front door left open by Cup Cake in her fruitless search for chocolate mice.

Well, That Happened…

Sorting themselves out, the PCs realized the pets had escaped… in different directions into the ominous Everfree Forest. Deciding that the mess in Fluttershy’s house could wait, the PCs set off into the forest to effect a rescue. They started by following baby alligator tracks down the river which eventually led them to a small island. Flying above the island was a blue bird with a funny green feather frill, a mohawk! Pinkie Pie’s pet alligator, Gummy, had firmly chomped down on the frantic bird’s tail feathers, and wouldn’t let go. Thunder Gust and Shiftwing (morphed into pegasus form) flew up and attempted to remove the alligator from the bird, which they did, but their actions resulted in Gummy plummeting toward the ground (and near certain doom), until the distractable Cup Cake used her telekinesis to catch him.

Don’t Let the Cuteness Fool You!

Scary Monsters (and Diamond Dogs)

After rescuing Gummy, the PCs decided to follow the faint dog howls to a small hut, surrounded by variously sized holes in the ground. Applejack’s dog, Winona, was tied up in front of the structure, and she was upset about it. Using stealth and guile to approach Winona without her making any noise, the PCs managed to free her and made it nearly away before attracting the attention of something underground. Moving quietly, the PCs managed to avoid the diamond dogs who had taken Winona captive, though those greedy hounds may come into play again if the PCs don’t escape the Everfree Forest soon.
While following a smoke trail, the PCs ran into the mysterious rhyming zebra named Zecora! Zecora gave some cryptic advice and gave each pony a healing potion for their journey.
Continuing to follow the smoke, the PCs left the Everfree Forest and entered a craggy, rocky canyon with pits and holes in the canyon walls. From the canyon mouth, they could see Rainbow Dash’s turtle Tank! Tank’s helicopter backpack apparatus was broken and the poor turtle was helplessly caught on a stone spur. Thunder Gust flew toward the turtle and got him free, but drew the attention of a fearsome quarray eel in the process. A breathless scuffle with the quarray eel ensued, in which Calm Heart, as well as Thunder Gust were swallowed whole by the monster! Cup Cake and Shiftwing (morphed to look like Cup Cake) used their telekinesis to get their companions free, and the four narrowly escaped back into the Everfree Forest with Tank.

What Happens Next?

With three of the Mane Six’s pets rescued, who will the PCs attempt to find next? Will it be the wise owl Owlowiscious? The prissy pussycat Opalescence? Or naughty Angel Bunny herself? You will just have to wait until part 2 to find out!

Adventures In Wonderland (1-4)

Last October our family started this fun series of children’s adventures. We had an ESL student we had hosted some time ago visiting for a few days, and it seemed like a great activity we could all enjoy.  We shared a review of Adventures in Wonderland #1: Chasing the White Rabbit at that time, and the kids loved it. So much so Kelly ran the second adventure the same night with only a quick scan of the PDF before playing. The third was played the next day.

Then a long time passed. Our former student returned to Japan. The kids begged and begged to find out what happened to the white rabbit. We played another fun kids adventure. And eventually a new chapter in the AIW series came out.

With Rugrat #3 old enough to not be napping, but young enough she can’t quite grasp everything that’s going on, we set her up as Kelly’s animal companion. She sat on Kelly’s lap, rolling her own set of dice randomly and chiming in to repeat what people said.

“Perfect summer day.”

 

Continue reading Adventures In Wonderland (1-4)

doorway to another time

Way of the Worlds – A Design Journal

Last week I detailed my thoughts about Paizo’s new Starfinder Roleplaying Game. While the game itself is competent, if uninspiring to me, Kelly and I decided to use it to run a new campaign, partly in order to test the game out and see how well some ideas we have for products might fit. It may not be my favourite game, but hey, if you want to earn a few credits, you sell material for the systems that people will buy products for, right?

Here we go again…

Instead of taking the easy road and running straight from pre-existing material, Kelly suggested running a game inspired by a show she’s devoured on Netflix: Outlander. This is nothing new; Kelly works from home and occasionally the television is on in the background while she goes about her business.

If you aren’t aware of the premise, Outlander is about a young, married nurse who travels from 1945 Scotland to 1743 Scotland where she meets and falls in love with another man. The show is beautifully filmed, and is full of drama, intrigue, brief bouts of vicious brutality, and, of course, romance. It is well worth watching, if you are looking for something in the vein of A Game of Thrones with 100% more men in kilts and 80% fewer naked young women standing/writhing/being… seductive(?), during expository scenes.

But wait, there’s more!

While Outlander is a great place to start, I don’t want the game to primarily take place in the past with only framing sequences and flashbacks in the present. So looking at other stranger in a strange land tropes, I have taken inspiration from the DC Comics character Adam Strange, particularly the Adam Strange: Planet Heist miniseries by Andy Diggle and Pascual Ferry as well as, to a lesser extent, the Adam Strange: Man of Two Worlds (which I believe is just called Adam Strange in its original mini-series release) story by Richard Bruning and the Kubert brothers. Adam Strange also led back to his sword and planet forebears, John Carter (of Mars!) and Carson (Napier) of Venus, both created by Edgar Rice Burroughs of course. As an aside, I’ve always preferred Carson to John Carter.

What do we do now?

So, now we have our premise of a young, affianced diplomat (yes, she is an envoy; our frustrations with this class are pretty well tested) who randomly travels from 317AG to 4717AD Korvosa on Golarion where she will meet another appealing young man who is completely different in temperament from her fiancé. Plenty here to create romance and drama, right? But what will the characters do? Where’s the adventure?

Here I look to pre-published material. While the first Starfinder adventure path is far from complete, I can look to the description of the adventures that comprise it, and adapt from those plot to literally collapse the Pact System via a weapon of mass destruction (called the Stellar Degenerator in the AP, but which I have renamed the Maw of Rovagug for… reasons). From here I have sketched out a solar system spanning series of events, full of action and tense negotiations.

starfarer's companion coverWhile in Korvosa, I am adapting the mostly fantastic Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path to the Starfinder system (with a little help from the Starfarer’s Companion by Rogue Genius Games). There’s a lot of drama already baked into this adventure path, and set in a pre-Victorian England and France inspired Korvosa, with sharp divides between social classes and plenty of unrest, it is already proving to be exciting! Having the two adventures running concurrently also allows me to move the action from one setting to the other when Curse of the Crimson Throne hits a portion Kelly is less likely to enjoy (namely anything involving a dungeon), or when there is extended travel through the Pact System.

What’s your inspiration?

I really enjoy adapting material that I enjoy into game material, and the rewards thus far have been immense. This has been a great campaign so far, with a lot of drama, and possibly some hard choices looming. It feels a lot like Outlander by way of Battlestar Galactica.

Does it sound appealing to you?

What material have you adapted for gaming, successfully or not?

What material do you think is ripe for adaptation?

Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!

broken car

Help, I’m Alive! – Deadworld Design Journal 1

As with so many things, this all started with Kelly telling me she had watched something she really enjoyed. In this instance it was Van Helsing, a television series that details the activities of a mysteriously badass woman who kills vampires in a post-apocalyptic world. She then had me watch it as we worked in the evenings after the rugrats had nested for the night. I liked it well enough. As Kelly suspected, it gave me a few ideas I could translate into RPGs.

She then started watching Z Nation, which she really got excited about, so, once again, I started watching it with her (she kindly allowed me to start at the beginning). I was leary at first.

I’ve watched The Walking Dead to the end of the seventh season. I read the first hundred issues of the comic book. I stopped both because I found them wearying. Their relentless bleakness made me wonder why any of the principal characters wanted to survive aside from sheer masochism. I liked Z Nation more than TWD (or Van Helsing for that matter). It was cheesy, had some bad acting and questionable production values, but its bones were good. And the scenarios and ideas in play seemed like someone had translated their zombie apocalypse gaming sessions into an awesome series of short B movies. In short, its makers remembered that sometimes its okay to be fun or silly, even in the midst of death.

Shortly after I started watching Z Nation, Kelly asked if I wanted to change campaigns while we were on vacation; switch from our Supernatural inspired modern occult investigation campaign to one set in the zombie apocalypse. Sure, I said, thinking that this would be a short term thing. I should have known better….

Location Matters

I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, so I lightly sketched out zombified North America. The best zombie entertainment, in my opinion, begin in the aftermath of whatever apocalyptic event brought the world to its knees, so I decided to set our game four years after Z-Day. Our game would start in Virginia, at the University of Virginia per Kelly’s character’s background. A portion of the University has been turned into a secure compound under a chauvinistically tyrannical thumb. The rest of the campus is kept free of the dead and other riffraff by the compound’s soldiers, who also make scavenging forays into other less friendly territories. Women, children, and the elderly take care of the compound itself, ensuring that it runs smoothly and that the soldiers are comfortable.

Beyond the compound’s environs, the US is a patchwork of disparate factions vying for limited resources. The larger a community was, the harder it was hit on Z-Day, so there is marginally more safety from the dead in the less populated regions of the country.  Much of Kansas is controlled by a charismatic clergyman and his chosen Redeemers. There is a roughly triangular region anchored by Chicago, Springfield, and Indianapolis where the sun no longer rises. Locals of this area have taken to calling it Neverlight, outsiders merely say that it is Always Dark and avoid the area. It is rumored that there are… things… in the dark. Texas is reputed to be free of the dead and is ruthlessly controlled by four Oil Barons. The waters have reclaimed southern Louisiana; New Orleans is now generally known as The Sunken City. There are points of light as well: the southern tip of Vancouver Island has been walled off and is free of the dead, if rumours are true, though one must endure eight weeks of solitary quarantine if they are to join Utopia, as it is called by the desperate. There are other safe zones out there, somewhere.

Alert Status Red

Being set in the zombie post-apocalypse, zombies will of course be well represented. Regular, lurching zombies, fast zombies, plague spewing zombies… they’re all in there. People with their myriad array of abilities and allegiances of course will likely pose the biggest threat, ultimately. But there needs to be more… Taking a page from Resident Evil and Resident Evil 3, tyrant and nemesis-like undead menaces will present themselves from time to time.

The dead are comprised of more than just zombies as well. As described above, there is a region that never sees daylight. What kind of undead creatures could thrive in such a place? I can think of one or two.. or perhaps more. And… and this is my favourite part… there are ghouls. Yes. Ghouls. What is terrifying to people inured to the horror of the zombie apocalypse? Dead things that are social, intelligent, and ever-hungry for living flesh are. The ghouls, and their queen, have plans. And while they would love to see the population of humans increase, it would certainly be to the detriment of the general quality of life…

The End is Here

I think that is enough to chew on for the time being. Next time, I will discuss the system, resources used, and some house rules that have been implemented to better simulate the system’s implementation of the theme.

Comment below!

What have I missed? What kind of things would you like to see in your zombie apocalypse? Sound off in the comments.